Diet soda is a popular beverage that many people use when they want to enjoy a carbonated beverage without all the added sugar or calories.
Although it’s often marketed as a healthy alternative, that might not actually be the case.
So, should you drink diet soda? We’ll answer this question below.
What is Diet Soda?
Diet soda was first introduced in the 1950’s as a healthier alternative to regular soda.
It’s made to have the same taste as regular soda, but is made with artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and saccharin to provide sweetness.
Presently, many diet soda companies are replacing the word “diet” with terms like “zero sugar” to continue marketing as a healthy alternative choice.
So what’s actually in diet soda? Let’s take a look.
Ingredients in Diet Soda:
Diet soda typically consists of a carbonated water base with the following added ingredients:
Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin, or sucralose: These sweeteners are often used for sweetness, and can be 200-600 times sweeter than regular sugar. Although artificial sweeteners are often believed to be a healthy alternative to regular sugar, research has found otherwise (1,2).
Acids: Such as citrus, malic, or phosphoric acid that are often added to provide acidity and sharpness to the beverage.
Coloring: Carotenoids, anthocyanins, caramel, and synthetic food dyes are commonly used in diet soda, which are associated with hyperactivity in children. (3).
Flavors: Including artificial flavors or fruit juices.
Caffeine: Many diet sodas contain caffeine, with a 12 oz. can of diet soda containing around 40-50 mg of caffeine.
Additionally, some brands may include vitamins, minerals, and herbal extracts.
Is Diet Soda Bad For You?
Let’s explore the impact diet soda can have on our health. Here’s what the research says:
May Increase Blood Sugar Levels
Despite the common belief that diet soda is a better alternative for those with elevated blood sugar, studies have found diet soda to significantly increase the risk of health complications related to high blood sugar.
In fact, one study found that long term consumption of artificial sweeteners to be associated with a higher risk of glucose related health conditions (4,5).
Can Impact Heart Health:
One study found that women who consumed more than two diet beverages per day, had a higher risk for heart disease and mortality (6).
Additionally, a meta-analysis found a higher risk of poor heart health for those consuming sugar-sweetened and artificially-sweetened beverages (7).
Can Negatively Impact the Gut Microbiome:
Both human and animal studies have found a negative impact between artificial sweeteners and the gut microbiome.
That’s because consumption of artificial sweeteners appears to change the composition and diversity of the gut microbiome, and leads to decreased satiety, altered glucose metabolism, and increased caloric intake (8,9,10).
Could Impact Bone Health:
Many diet sodas contain both caffeine and phosphoric acid, which have been negatively shown to impact bone health if consumed in excess.
For example, one study found heavy caffeine consumption to increase calcium excretion from the bones, whereas moderate caffeine intake (about 1-2 cups of coffee per day), did not have a significant impact on bone health (11).
Likewise, the additive phosphoric acid has been shown to reduce bone mass; especially if an individual’s diet is low in calcium (12).
Additionally, another study found that consumption of diet colas specifically were associated with a low bone mineral density in women; a condition that can increase the risk for osteoporosis (13,14).
Can Increase Sugar Cravings & Weight Gain:
Since artificial sweeteners are a lot sweeter in taste than regular sugar, studies have found diet soda to increase sugar cravings (15,16).
Despite the belief that artificial sweeteners are beneficial for weight loss, several large studies have found otherwise (17).
Are There Health Benefits of Diet Soda?
Consuming diet soda does not provide any direct health benefit, although some may use diet soda as a way to wean off sugar.
Despite some research claiming that consuming diet soda does not impact health in a negative way, these studies are often tied to the soda industry itself.
In fact, over half of the people on the 2020 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee are tied to the soda industry (18).
Talk about a conflict of interest!
Better Alternatives to Diet Soda:
So what are some healthier alternatives to diet soda? Here’s some ideas:
Carbonated water (which can be bought at a store or made at home)
Zevia (which is made with a sweetener called stevia that comes from plants)
Unsweetened tea or coffee for an energy boost
Should You Drink Diet Soda? My Verdict:
With all the research showing the negative impact that diet soda has on our health, along with a lack of nutritional benefit, I’d suggest ditching diet soda.
There’s many other ways to get carbonation in beverages, along with an energy boost throughout the day.
And if you’re opening up a can of diet soda to get an energy boost, it may be helpful to take a closer look at your eating habits, sleep habits, and exercise routine.
Autumn Enloe, MS, RD, LD, CLT
Autumn Enloe is a registered dietitian in Minnesota. She has a private practice where she focuses on helping women take care of themselves through proper nutrition, supplement and lifestyle adjustments. She provides remote nutrition coaching and frequently posts free nutrition content and recipes at her website: www.autumnenloe.com.