Another Reason to Skip Diet Soda

Drink in moderation and be mindful of the risks.

Glass of cola with ice on a wooden table. Copyspace on the right.

Updated on November 21, 2022.

It's the perennial question: How healthy is the concoction of chemicals and coloring in your favorite diet soft drink? Is it a harmless alternative when you're trying to control calories?

The downsides of diet soda have become increasingly apparent over the years. Not only does it have little-to-no nutritional value, research has linked regular consumption to excess calorie intake, weight gain, and a raised risk of multiple health conditions. That said, some evidence suggests that the occasional diet soft drink is likely okay in the context of an overall balanced, wholesome diet. 

With that in mind, here’s what we know now.

Diet soda pros and cons

The potential disadvantages of a diet soda habit are numerous. For one thing, it may lead to consuming more calories overall. For example, a 2019 study in Pediatric Obesity found that children who drank low-calorie sweetened beverages, including diet soda, took in almost 200 calories more a day and 15 more calories of added sugar than children who drank water. 

Why this happens is uncertain, but experts have posed that: 

  • Carbonated beverages, in general, may increase the production of ghrelin, a hormone produced in the gut that increases hunger. 
  • Eating and drinking sweet things, in general, may increase appetite or make you want more sweet things.
  • When your body takes in sweet-tasting things, it assumes it will also be receiving calories. When it doesn’t, it’s not fully satisfied and will remain hungry. 

Drinking diet soda on a regular basis has also been linked to an increase in the risk of metabolic syndrome, a collection of conditions including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high triglycerides, low levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and a large waistline. Metabolic syndrome raises your chances of heart attack and stroke, and contributes to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and even some forms of cancer.

That’s not all. A 2019 study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that drinking two or more artificially sweetened soft drinks increased participants’ risk of death from all causes, including cardiovascular disease.

What about the potential upsides, though? As experts have tried to understand how diet soda affects the body, some research suggests that it may not be wholly detrimental. For example, a  2012 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who replaced caloric drinks with non-caloric drinks—including diet soda—lost more weight than people who didn’t make the replacements. 

Making healthy choices

Drinking diet soda may seem like a good way to decrease calories and still enjoy something other than water. When consumed in moderation, it likely won't cause you much harm. But too much—even having one or two a day—could not only foil your weight loss goals but increase your risk for health complications. 

If you love a soda now and then, do a quick whole-health inventory before cracking one open. Make sure you're not doing anything else that could harm your blood pressure, blood sugar, waist size, triglycerides, or cholesterol.

Try to maintain a balanced diet focused on 100 percent whole grains, healthy fats, low-fat or nonfat dairy, fish, fruit, and veggies. Go easy on saturated fats and refined sugars, as well. This way, an occasional diet soft drink won't do much to raise your risk of metabolic syndrome.

If it’s the caffeine you’re seeking, for an everyday low-cal pick-me-up, consider tea or coffee. Hot or iced, both are overflowing with heart-healthy antioxidants, too. Sparkling water is a great alternative to soda if you crave bubbles; add a wedge of lime or lemon for flavor. 

Of course, for the ultimate in thirst quenching, nothing beats water.

Article sources open article sources

Ebbeling CB, Feldman HA, et al. A randomized trial of sugar-sweetened beverages and adolescent body weight. N Engl J Med. 2012 Oct 11;367(15):1407-16.
Maersk M, Belza A, et al. Satiety scores and satiety hormone response after sucrose-sweetened soft drink compared with isocaloric semi-skimmed milk and with non-caloric soft drink: a controlled trial. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2012 Apr;66(4):523-9. 
Bleich SN, Wolfson JA, et al. Diet-beverage consumption and caloric intake among US adults, overall and by body weight. Am J Public Health. 2014 Mar;104(3):e72-8.
Mullee A, Romaguera D, Pearson-Stuttard J, et al. Association Between Soft Drink Consumption and Mortality in 10 European Countries. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2019;179:1479–1490.
Sylvetsky, Allison, Figueroa, Janet, Zimmerman, Talia, Swithers, Susan, Welsh, Jean. Consumption of low-calorie sweetened beverages is associated with higher total energy and sugar intake among children, NHANES 2011-2016. Pediatric Obesity. 2019;14:e12535.
Harvard Health Publishing. Zero weight loss from zero calorie drinks? Say it ain’t so. March 22, 2021.
Cleveland Clinic. Ghrelin. April 21, 2022.
Yang Q. Gain weight by "going diet?" Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings: Neuroscience 2010. Yale J Biol Med. 2010 Jun;83(2):101-8. 
Duffey KJ, Steffen LM, et al. Dietary patterns matter: diet beverages and cardiometabolic risks in the longitudinal Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 95, Issue 4, April 2012, Pages 909–915.
Crichton G, Alkerwi A, Elias M. Diet Soft Drink Consumption is Associated with the Metabolic Syndrome: A Two Sample Comparison. Nutrients. 2015 May 13;7(5):3569-86.
Nettleton JA, Lutsey PL, et al. Diet soda intake and risk of incident metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Diabetes Care. 2009 Apr;32(4):688-94.
NIH: NIH Research Matters. The Role of Diet in Metabolic Syndrome. February 25, 2008.
Dhingra R, Sullivan L, et al. Soft Drink Consumption and Risk of Developing Cardiometabolic Risk Factors and the Metabolic Syndrome in Middle-Aged Adults in the Community. Circulation. 2007;116:480–488.
Mayo Clinic. Metabolic Syndrome. Page last updated on May 6, 2021.
Esposito K, Chiodini P, et al. Metabolic syndrome and risk of cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetes Care. 2012 Nov;35(11):2402-11.
American Heart Association. What Is Metabolic Syndrome? Last reviewed March 25, 2021.
MedlinePlus. Metabolic Syndrome. Last updated January 17, 2020.
Tate DF, Turner-McGrievy G, et al. Replacing caloric beverages with water or diet beverages for weight loss in adults: main results of the Choose Health Options Conscioulsy Everyday (CHOICE) randomized clinical trial, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 95, Issue 3, March 2012, Pages 555–563.
Mayo Clinic. I drink diet soda every day. Could this be harmful? Page last updated on November 3, 2022.
Cleveland Clinic. Just How Bad is Diet Soda for You? October 10, 2019.
Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Healthy Weight, Nutrition, and Physical Activity: Water and Healthier Drinks. Page last reviewed June 6, 2022.

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