For many soda drinkers looking to drop some weight, the logical choice would be to switch out the high sugar-high calorie drink with a no calorie no sugar option. Enter diet soda. Diet soda was first introduced in 1958, but didn’t take off until the 80s with the surge of Diet Coke. What’s not to love, free of carbs, sugar, and calories; seems practically like a health food. Diet soda also contains preservatives (sodium benzoate), artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, stevia), artificial colors (caramel) and addition of acid (malic acid, phosphoric and citric). While the science around diet soda, artificial sweeteners and weight are inconclusive, there are some indirect associations.
Many studies have revealed that diet soda can lead to a bigger waistline — in fact, diet soda drinkers have been shown to have a 70 percent greater increase in waist circumference compared to non-diet soda drinkers. And people who drank at least two diet sodas per day were found to have a five times greater increase in waist circumference.
Other studies have shown that sweet tastes, whether from pure sugar or artificial sweeteners (aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, saccharin), increase the human appetite. The difference is that when a person eats real sugar, which has calories, the brain receives a signal that helps it feel full — but this signal may not be triggered with artificial sweeteners. If the brain doesn’t sense satisfaction it continues to seek food to fuel the body, leading to cravings. Diet soda drinkers tend to have less healthier eating habits, as a way to balance the higher-fat, higher calorie foods, which may also contribute to weight gain.
As if weight gain weren’t bad enough, studies have also reported the other negative impacts of artificial sweeteners. Diabetes-prone mice that were fed a diet that included aspartame for three months had higher blood glucose levels than mice not given the sweetener. People who drank artificially-sweetened beverages every day had a higher risk for strokes and heart attacks. Artificial sweeteners have also been shown to disrupt the gut microbiome and alter blood sugar.
While drinking diet soda isn’t an end-all-be-all sentence to weight gain, there’s no real reason to have it. Aim to replace your daily diet soda with healthier drinks such as fruit-infused water, coconut water, sparkling water, teas including green tea or even kombucha. All of these are going have more nutritional value and benefits than diet soda.