So, is diet soda good for weight loss? First off, it’s important to understand that not all ‘diet’ sodas are equal. Those sold in supermarkets (or stores) are typically filled with artificial sweeteners and food chemicals which can be harmful for your health. Secondly, diet soda doesn’t replace your desire for calories. In fact, many people will drink diet soda AND indulge in unhealthy eating habits!
Diet sodas are popular beverages all over the world, especially among people who want to reduce their sugar or calorie intake.
Instead of sugar, artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, cyclamates, saccharin, acesulfame-k, or sucralose, are used to sweeten them.
Almost every popular sugar-sweetened beverage on the market has a “light” or a “diet” version — Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Pepsi Max, Sprite Zero, etc.
Diet sodas were first introduced in the 1950s for people with diabetes, though they were later marketed to people trying to control their weight or reduce their sugar intake.
Despite being free of sugar and calories, the health effects of diet drinks and artificial sweeteners are controversial.
Diet soda isn’t nutritious
Diet soda is essentially a mixture of carbonated water, artificial or natural sweetener, colors, flavors, and other food additives.
It usually has very few to no calories and no significant nutrition. For example, one 12-ounce (354-mL) can of Diet Coke contains no calories, sugar, fat, or protein and 40 mg of sodium
However, not all sodas that use artificial sweeteners are low in calories or sugar-free. Some use sugar and sweetener together. For example, one can of Coca-Cola Life, which contains the natural sweetener stevia, contains 90 calories and 24 grams of sugar
While recipes differ from brand to brand, some common ingredients in diet soda include:
- Carbonated water. While sparkling water can occur in nature, most sodas are made by dissolving carbon dioxide into water under pressure
- Sweeteners. These include common artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, or an herbal sweetener like stevia, which are 200–13,000 times sweeter than regular sugar
- Acids. Certain acids, such as citric, malic, and phosphoric acid, are used to add tartness to soda drinks. They’re also linked to tooth enamel erosion
- Colors. The most commonly used colors are carotenoids, anthocyanins, and caramels
- Flavors. Many different kinds of natural juices or artificial flavors are used in diet soda, including fruits, berries, herbs, and cola
- Preservatives. These help diet sodas last longer on the supermarket shelf. A commonly used preservative is potassium benzoate
- Vitamins and minerals. Some diet soft drink manufacturers add vitamins and minerals to market their products as healthier no-calorie alternatives
- Caffeine. Just like regular soda, many diet sodas contain caffeine. A can of Diet Coke contains 46 mg of caffeine, while Diet Pepsi contains 35 mg
Diet soda is a mixture of carbonated water, artificial or natural sweeteners, colors, flavors, and extra components like vitamins or caffeine. Most varieties contain zero or very few calories and no significant nutrition.
Effects on weight loss are conflicting
Because diet soda is usually calorie-free, it would be natural to assume it could aid weight loss. However, research suggests the association may not be so straightforward.
Several observational studies have found that using artificial sweeteners and drinking high amounts of diet soda is associated with an increased risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome
Scientists have suggested that diet soda may increase appetite by stimulating hunger hormones, altering sweet taste receptors, and triggering dopamine responses in the brain
Given that diet soft drinks have no calories, these responses may cause a higher intake of sweet or calorie-dense foods, resulting in weight gain. However, evidence of this is not consistent in human studies
Another theory suggests that diet soda’s correlation to weight gain may be explained by people with bad dietary habits drinking more of it. The weight gain they experience may be caused by their existing dietary habits — not diet soda
Experimental studies do not support the claim that diet soda causes weight gain. In fact, these studies have found that replacing sugar-sweetened drinks with diet soda can result in weight loss
One study had overweight participants drink 24 ounces (710 mL) of diet soda or water per day for 1 year. At the end of the study, the diet soda group had experienced an average weight loss of 13.7 pounds (6.21 kg), compared with 5.5 pounds (2.5 kg) in the water group
However, to add to the confusion, there’s evidence of bias in the scientific literature. Studies funded by the artificial sweetener industry have been found to have more favorable outcomes than non-industry studies, which may undermine the validity of their results
Overall, more high quality research is needed to determine the true effects of diet soda on weight loss.
Observational studies link diet soda with obesity. However, it’s not clear whether diet soda is a cause of this. Experimental studies show positive effects on weight loss, but these might be influenced by industry funding.
Surprising Side Effects of Not Drinking Diet Soda
The changes are remarkable—yes, even when you give up the diet versions, too.
Drinking soda is an easy habit to fall back into—it’s everywhere, and it’s easy to consider diet versions to be a relatively harmless vice. A sip for nostalgia’s sake or a quick caffeine hit can lead back to a three-a-day habit.
You’ll reduce sugar cravings
Cutting the calories from sugar-spiked soda is a no-brainer: At 150 calories a can, those can add up to serious poundage. But diet soda is also associated with weight gain—it’s just more passive-aggressive about it. “Artificial sweeteners affect our sense of satiety,” says Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, of Isabel Smith Nutrition.
“Our bodies have evolutionarily developed to expect a large amount of calories when we take in something exceedingly sweet, and those artificial sweeteners are from 400 times to 8,000 times sweeter than sugar, according to the FDA. It causes a couple of things to happen: The muscles in your stomach relax so you can take in food, and hormones are released. With artificial sweeteners, your body says, ‘Wait a minute, you told me you were going to give me all this high-calorie food.’ It can actually send some people searching for more food, out of lack of satisfaction.”
Because artificial, non-nutritive sweeteners have been linked to increased cravings (in some cases, even more than stimulants), when you give them up, you may start to notice that your body doesn’t crave as much sugar, or “sweetness” as it did before.
You’ll reduce your risk of developing insulin resistance
“Even though diet drinks are calorie-free, they cause insulin to be released in your gut because their artificial sweeteners are sweet like sugar, and that actually prevents weight loss,” says Miriam Jacobson, RD, CDN.
A 2020 Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care study found that diabetics who consumed artificial sweeteners had higher insulin resistance than those who did not consume these sweeteners, and a separate study linked consumption of artificial sweeteners to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, although more research needs to be done to determine if there is any cause and effect or if it’s just correlation.
You’ll lose weight
“Insulin is your body’s primary fat-storage hormone, so it will have the body hold on to any extra fat,” Jacobson explains, adding, “Trying to lose weight by trading a Coke for a Diet Coke is doing the body just as much harm, if not more, because of all the chemicals in the calorie-free version.”
Researchers have been studying the link between obesity and artificial sweetener consumption, and they’ve found many associations through different mechanisms; however, like all observational studies, this does not prove that artificial sweeteners are necessarily the cause of obesity—just that they are correlated.
While you’re weaning yourself off of your soda habit, add these fat-burning foods to your diet, some of which actually block adipogenesis, the process by which fat is stored on your frame.
You’ll support better gut health
The acidity in soda is bad news for your digestive system, eroding tooth enamel and worsening acid reflux. But diet sodas are especially treacherous for your gut—and the far-reaching bodily systems it affects. “Researchers are finding that artificial sweeteners may affect our healthy gut bacteria, which can affect everything from blood-sugar control to weight management to disease—how our immune system works and how our body responds to infection,” says Smith.
You’ll have more energy
No shocker here: The caffeine in soda is not your friend. “Drinking too much caffeine can make you dehydrated, and it can overstimulate the nervous system, making you fatigued and exhausted,” says Smith. “I find that when people cut back on caffeine they have more energy because the caffeine causes very big highs and lows,” she adds.
In her practice, Smith has seen what happens when you stop drinking soda, and it can lead to a positive domino effect. “There is way more energy for our bodies in real food than in processed foods,” she says, adding, “When people cut back on processed items, they often look for more fresh foods and make better choices. By giving up soda, it may seem like you’re making one change, but it can actually change a couple aspects of your diet for the better
Diet beverages are known to cause health issues
#1 Bone weakness
Diet beverages are high in phosphate, which may interfere with your calcium levels. According to an article in the American College of Sports Medicine, drinking diet beverages daily may increase your chance of fracture from a fall by three to four times. Additionally, too little calcium can cause osteoporosis.
#2 Weight gain
If you choose diet soda to avoid sugar calories or to lose weight, you may be unwittingly hurting your efforts. Research has shown people who consume artificially sweetened beverages over sugared beverages actually have higher body weight and are more likely to have Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The reasons aren’t clear, but it could be that sweet, non-caloric food and drink throws off the body’s natural metabolic responses.
#3 Skin damage
High intake of diet soda can also cause early ageing, as it reduces the body’s ph levels. Soda drinkers tend to cut down on milk products and other minerals that nourish the skin, which can cause wrinkles and dull your skin.
#4 Heart, stroke, and diabetes-related problems
Drinking too much diet soda can increase the risk of a heart attack. Even diet sodas have sugar and it aggregates harmful lipids in the blood increases the risk of stroke. The high level of sugar disturbs the insulin level in diabetic patients and that, in turn, can cause metabolic disorders, weight gain, cataracts, etc.
#5 Fear of miscarriage
Diet sodas have caffeine and consumption of more than 200 mg of caffeine daily by pregnant women can increase the risk of miscarriage as a fetus cannot metabolize caffeine easily. Most pregnant women are asked to avoid diet sodas.
There are many other side effects to diet soda that can cause significant health problems. This is why you should stop thinking it’s good for health just because it has a ‘diet’ in its name and cut down on your consumption of it. Instead, drink a glass of fresh fruit juice or just cold water which will help flush out the toxins in your body.
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