Is diet soda bad for me?

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
A recent alarming headline linked diet soda to an increased risk for stroke. In this video, Dr. Oz reveals if this headline is based on fact or fiction.
Dr. Mike Dow, PsyD
Addiction Medicine
One study showed 41 percent increase in risk of being overweight for every can of diet soda consumed every day! You can recalibrate your taste buds, so even if the diet soda has no calories, the hundreds-of-times-sweeter-than-sugar taste takes away your ability to appreciate the more subtle sweetness of things like whole fruit. And you may then need very sweet foods to get the same perception of sweetness.

No, unless you have been diagnosed with a condition that would disallow one of the ingredients in a particular sweetener, which would be extremely rare (e.g. Phenylketonuria). Unfortunately the internet is abuzz with horror stories of artificial sweeteners, commonly found in diet soda, causing everything from cancer to obesity in humans. To date, the FDA has not been presented with scientific information that would support a change in conclusions about the safety of the five approved artificial sweeteners (saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, neotame, and acesulfame potassium). The safe conclusions are based on a detailed review of a large body of information, including hundreds of toxicological and clinical studies. So is diet soda better than regular soda pop? If you are trying to control your calorie intake, then definitely, yes, it is better.

Many experts believe that drinking liquid calories is helping to fuel the obesity crisis. And even diet sodas, a cornerstone beverage of many diet programs, may confuse the mind by offering a sweet taste, but no calories. This can result in your brain sending hunger signals to instigate eating, which just nudges weight higher.

In addition, recent research suggests that there's a relationship between soda consumption and the risk of stroke. Research at Harvard University and the Cleveland Clinic links sugar-sweetened soda and diet soda to a higher risk of stroke. The researchers had expected sugar-sweetened soda to have a link because of other studies that identify coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, weight gain and increased risk of diabetes in people who regularly consume soda. But the diet soda and stroke connection is a bit more puzzling. The researchers are looking at whether the caramel coloring is a factor, as well as other possible mechanisms.
Most people know that drinking sugary soda pop is unhealthy. But is diet soda a healthy way to go? Actually, recent research has shown a relationship between drinking diet soda and gaining weight. The best choice is good old water -- save soda for special occasions.
Robert  Davis, PhD
Health Education
Claims that diet soda may actually promote obesity have arisen mainly from several cohort studies linking diet soda to weight gain and other risk factors for heart disease. In one study, which followed 3,700 people for seven to eight years, diet-soda drinkers who started out at normal weights were more likely to become overweight or obese than nondrinkers. The more they consumed, the more weight they gained.

Of course, this doesn't prove cause and effect. It's possible that as people start to put on pounds, they increase their intake of diet drinks.

Untangling all this requires intervention studies, and here the case loses some fizz. Such studies, in which an experimental group is fed sugar substitutes and compared to a control group, have generally failed to show that artificially sweetened foods and beverages cause weight gain. But the research hasn't conclusively demonstrated that they lead to weight loss either. Results are mixed, and some of the most frequently cited studies showing a benefit were funded by the artificial sweetener industry.

In short, it's unclear exactly how diet soda affects weight-control efforts. Still, scientists have several explanations as to why it may not help and could possibly hurt. One is the "I'll have a Big Mac, large fries, and a Diet Coke" fallacy: People may subconsciously (or consciously) assume that because they're being virtuous by drinking diet soda, it's okay to otherwise overindulge.

Another possibility is that artificial sweeteners mess with our minds. When we taste something sweet, our brains are alerted that calories are on the way. If they don't materialize because we're drinking an artificially sweetened beverage, we're driven to go seek them elsewhere. In such a way, diet sodas may prompt us to eat more.

This is just a theory, however. What we do know is that when it comes to weight, calories matter. If diet soda helps you reduce your overall caloric intake, it can be a helpful tool for shedding those unwanted pounds.
Coffee is Good for You: From Vitamin C and Organic Foods to Low-Carb and Detox Diets, the Truth about Diet and Nutrition Claims

More About this Book

Coffee is Good for You: From Vitamin C and Organic Foods to Low-Carb and Detox Diets, the Truth about Diet and Nutrition Claims

Though food is supposed to be one of life's simple pleasures, few things cause more angst and confusion. Every day we are bombarded with come-ons for the latest diet, promises for "clinically...
Marjorie Nolan Cohn
Nutrition & Dietetics
Diet soda can affect weight on both a physical level and on a psychological level. On a physical level, diet sodas are full of artificial flavors and sweeteners. Even though diet soda has no calories, the artificial flavor and sweetness trigger the digestive process via your taste buds. And your intestine starts to secrete digestive juice in preparation for digestion. Problem is there is nothing to digest. This in turn, leaves your cells hungry for the sweetness that they thought they were getting but never did, sugar cravings ensue. Many people ultimately eat more later in the day.

On a psychological level, when someone drinks diet soda knowing it has less calories it creates an attitude that they have extra calories to eat other foods. Often this leads to more eating. A good example of this phenomenon is when someone orders a diet coke with his or her double bacon cheeseburger and large fry. At that point the soda is minor compared to the burger and fries.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.