What are the dangers of diet soda? Diet soda offers great taste, less calories, and better health, right? Maybe not so much. Recent studies offer reasons to reconsider drinking diet soda if concerned about your weight—or your health.
Introduced in the United States in 1964, Diet Pepsi was the first nationally marketed diet soda. In 1983, Coca Cola introduced Diet Coke, a beverage that celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2013. Today, four carbonated, low calorie, diet drinks rank in the top ten best-selling carbonated beverages in the country. In order, they are:
- Diet Coke (number three)
- Diet Pepsi (number seven)
- Diet Mt. Dew (number nine)
- Coke Zero (number ten)
In the second half of the last century, consumers focused on reducing calories to reduce weight—and the popularity of diet drinks skyrocketed. In 2015, with a growing cultural focus on health—and healthy food—diet soda is starting to lose its fizz. In the last five years, sales have dropped twenty percent. Why?
While a diet drink once a day, may seem a healthy habit, those calories, and the chemicals, add up. If you drink low-calorie soda for weight loss benefits, you may be in for a surprise.
Drinking Diet Soda May Be a Weighty Choice
Water is the most plentiful ingredient in any diet soda. That is good, because your body is about 60 percent water and you should replenish with nine to 13 cups of fluid a day—more for men, less for women. Keep in mind additional fluids might be needed if you exercise, are pregnant, or ill.
After that, research offers information about dangers of diet soda, including:
- Sweeteners: Studies of the safety of artificial sweeteners continue to offer conflicting information. Headaches, fatigue, and other symptoms are associated with artificial sweeteners. While authorities like the National Cancer Association offer no proof that sweeteners like aspartame cause cancer in humans, that fear is a primary reason for the downturn in diet soda sales. Responding to the furor over aspartame, Pepsi-Cola announced in April of this year it is replacing aspartame with sucralose in its diet drink formulations.
Researchers also voice concern for the exaggerated effect of artificial sweeteners on human taste buds. An expert on obesity and weight-loss at Boston Children’s Hospital, Dr. David Ludwig notes “Overstimulation of sugar receptors from frequent use of these hyper-intense sweeteners may limit tolerance for more complex tastes.” This realignment of taste may cause drinkers of diet soda to seek progressively sweeter, more highly processed foods with less nutritional value than fruits, vegetables, or grains.
- Weight gain: Some researchers believe differences between the chemical composition of sugar, and sugar substitutes, causes the body to metabolize artificial sweeteners in ways that lead to greater cravings, and weight gain. While energy density (or calories) are reduced though the ingestion of artificial sweeteners, the body responds counter-intuitively, failing to deliver a true satiety (feeling full) response. When you do not feel full, you eat—and drink—more.
- Metabolic syndrome: Elevated blood sugar and blood pressure, excess body fat and high cholesterol levels are part of a collection of symptoms known as metabolic syndrome. In addition to the health risk of these symptoms, metabolic syndrome increases risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. One study found the daily consumption of diet soda resulted in 36 percent higher relative risk of metabolic syndrome.
- Diabetes: The same and similar studies suggest a daily diet soda could increase the likelihood of type 2 diabetes. As the most common form of diabetes, type 2 occurs when blood glucose (sugar) levels remain higher than normal. This insulin resistance is treated with medication, insulin, and lifestyle changes involving diet and exercise to maintain a healthy weight.
- Alteration of gut microbiota: The human gastrointestinal system is home to trillions of microorganisms known as microbiota, or the microbiome. These organisms aid in digestion, production of vitamins, and assist your immune system, among other functions. Research suggests use of non-caloric sweeteners alters these gut flora in a way that drives up possibility of glucose intolerance and development of metabolic syndrome.
Is Your Diet Soda a Treat or Trouble?
An occasional diet drink is not likely to harm your health. That said, those who regularly consume low-calorie beverages with artificial sweeteners may be at higher risk for a number of serious health concerns.
In the journey to health and wellness, research and experience now reveal that what we eat is as important as how many calories are being consumed.