It is a popular misconception that zero-calorie diet soda is harmless. And you can drink as many bottles as possible and consume no calories and sugar at all! Dr. Carrie Lam, MD, FAAMFM, ABAARM says, “Diet soda contains artificial sweeteners and is less in calories than regular soda. Hence, they are preferable if you are on a diet and would like to enjoy a soda once in a while.” But what happens when you drink too many diet sodas a day? “The artificial sweeteners in diet beverages and foods can cause numerous health issues,” warns Dr. Lam.
In this article, doctors and experts help unravel the good, the bad, and the ugly side of diet soda. Scroll down!
What Is Diet Soda?
Diet soda is carbonated water with a low or no-calorie sweetener (LNCS). It is termed “diet” as it contains artificial sweeteners that are low or have no calories, making them a better option than regular soda. Diet soda is a mix of different ingredients.
What Does Diet Soda Contain?
- Carbonated Water: It is water infused with carbon dioxide under pressure and makes the soda fizzy (1).
- Aspartame: It is an artificial sweetener invented in 1965 by James M. Schlatter. Unlike saccharin, aspartame does not have a bitter after taste, and it is 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is FDA-approved, and the recommended dosage for adults and children in the US is 50 mg/kg body weight (2).
- Color: The commonly used colors in diet sodas are caramels, carotenoids, and anthocyanins (1).
- Acids: Acids like malic, phosphoric, and citric acids add a tartness to the diet soda (1).
- Flavors: Natural or artificial flavors like cola, fruits, and herbs are added in diet soda (1).
- Caffeine: Like regular soda, diet soda also contains caffeine. The caffeine content ranges between 35-46 mg, depending on the brand (1).
- Preservatives: All diet sodas contain preservatives to increase their shelf life. Potassium benzoate is the commonly used preservative in diet sodas (1).
- Vitamins And Minerals: A few diet sodas are fortified with vitamins and minerals. But not all.
Before breaking down why drinking diet soda may not be a “healthy” choice, let’s discuss what is so good about diet soda. Scroll down.
What Is Good About Drinking Diet Soda?
Dr. Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, FAND, says, “Diet soda is a tool for people who want to reduce the added sugar in their diets.”
Dr. Morton Tavel, MD, points out, “Artificial sweeteners are central to the huge market of diet and sugar-free foods and drinks. They are cheap and have the potential to combat the increasing threat of obesity and associated health impacts.”
He adds, “Your body doesn’t absorb sugar alcohols (artificial sugar) completely, so they don’t affect your blood sugar levels as much as sugar, and other carbohydrates do. However, if you have diabetes, it’s important to consider sugar alcohols to manage your blood sugar levels.”
However, sugar alcohols, preservatives, and colors in diet soda may cause harm if you consume too much of it. Let’s find out what the experts say in the section below.
Health Risks Of Drinking Too Much Diet Soda
Holistic health coach Virginia Gruhler remarks, “The marketed benefit of diet soda is having little to no calories. However, no calories don’t always mean it is better!”
Dr. Lam says, “As these drinks are termed calorie-free, technically, they should help in weight loss and prevent any sugar-related issues, such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome. However, there is hardly any evidence to support these health claims.” She adds, “Artificial sweeteners are not inert by nature. They can alter the gut bacteria, metabolism, and can also be linked to type 2 diabetes (3).”
A study showed that increased diet soda consumption caused abdominal weight gain and increased the risk of cardiometabolic diseases (4). Let’s place each ingredient of diet soda under the microscopic lens of scientific research and see why drinking too much of diet soda is not good for you:
1. Aspartame May Increase Hunger
Aspartame consists of two amino acids (a unit of protein) – aspartate and phenylalanine. And just like sugar, aspartame contains 4 calories per gram. However, drinking too much diet soda changes the equation. Scientists found that aspartame increased hunger, leading to more calorie consumption (5).
“Overall, considering that artificial sweeteners are essentially calorie-free, the data on their positive health impacts is perhaps a bit disappointing, especially since the prevalence of obesity and weight gain have tripled in the last 50 years despite the popularity of low-calorie sweeteners and their ubiquity,” says Dr. Morton Tavel, MD.
2. Caramel Color May Be A Carcinogen
Caramel color is made by heating corn or cane sugar and other carbohydrates. You must avoid all sugars and carb sources (bad carbs) if you are trying to lose weight. Moreover, caramel color might be a potent carcinogen and requires stricter regulations (6).
3. Acids May Cause Tooth Decay And Kidney Stone
Phosphoric acid adds tartness to diet sodas. A study confirmed that phosphoric acid could damage the tooth enamel (7). Plus, many scientific studies suggest that phosphoric acid may also trigger kidney stone formation (8), (9).
4. May Cause Metabolic Syndrome
Insulin is produced by the beta cells of the pancreas. It carries glucose molecules from the bloodstream to the cells, where they are converted to energy in the form of ATP. When you drink cola, the artificial sweetener prompts the brain to signal the beta cells to secrete insulin (10). But there are not enough glucose molecules to shuttle into the cells. This confuses the brain, and gradually, your body starts developing metabolic syndrome.
5. May Cause Diet Soda Addiction
Regularly consuming artificial coloring and flavoring agents through diet colas will make you crave them (5). “Artificial sweeteners train your brain and taste buds to want more sugar, which can lead to addiction, irritability, and obsessiveness,” says Virginia Gruhler.
Yes, diet soda addiction is for real. How do you know if you are addicted to diet soda? Check for these symptoms.
Symptoms That You Are Drinking Too Much Diet Soda
- Sugar craving
- Craving for munchies
- Poor digestion
- Abdominal obesity
- Overall weight gain
If you have these symptoms, you know you are drinking too much diet soda. Is there a safe limit to drinking diet soda per day? Scroll down to find out.
How Much Diet Soda Is OK Per Day?
If you have diabetes or want to cut down your daily sugar intake, you may drink a can of diet soda in a day. However, Virginia Gruhler warns, “Since artificial sweeteners are designed to be addictive, I would recommend cutting down soda completely!”
You may never notice when a can of diet soda will become multiple cans per day. Hence, it is best to stay off it. Instead, try the following safer alternatives.
Alternatives To Diet Soda
- Iced tea with soda water
- Seltzer with orange juice
- Cold lassi or buttermilk
- Homemade lemonade with soda water
- Other juices without artificial sweeteners
Scroll through to the next section for expert advice for adults and kids who drink too much diet soda per day.
Expert’s Advice For Adults And Kids
“Too much of anything is bad. If it’s crowding out healthful foods like fruits and vegetables, low-fat or fat-free milk, then that is a red flag you need to avoid. Cut back diet soda gradually. Make homemade low and no-calorie drinks, or drink plain water,” advises Dr. Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, FAND.
Gruhler suggests, “Make one small change every day! You don’t have to quit entirely, but gradually decrease your amount every day and see how you feel! Most people who quit soda report improved migraines, less depression, less IBS, and decreased weight.”
Diet soda has fewer calories than regular soda. However, there is no scientific evidence that it can help you lose weight and is better for your health. In fact, it may make you crave more food, leading to weight gain, diabetes, and cardiometabolic diseases. While it is good to have diet soda sometimes, excessive consumption is not healthy. Hence, look for alternatives that work for you and gradually reduce your diet soda intake. Consult a registered dietitian or a doctor and break free from diet soda addiction.
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- Carbonated Beverages
- Aspartame—True or False? Narrative Review of Safety Analysis of General Use in Products
- Artificially Sweetened Beverages and the Response to the Global Obesity Crisis
- Diet soda intake is associated with long-term increases in waist circumference in a bi-ethnic cohort of older adults: The San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging
- Gain weight by “going diet?” Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings
- Caramel Color in Soft Drinks and Exposure to 4-Methylimidazole: A Quantitative Risk Assessment
- Pop-Cola Acids and Tooth Erosion: An In Vitro In Vivo Electron-Microscopic and Clinical Report
- Carbonated Beverages and Chronic Kidney Disease
- Soda and Other Beverages and the Risk of Kidney Stones
- Ingestion of Diet Soda Before a Glucose Load Augments Glucagon-Like Peptide-1 Secretion
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