People often opt for diet soda as a healthier alternative to sugary soft drinks containing high-fructose corn syrup and sugar, but are they really healthier? The answer is not a clear cut yes or no.
What's in Diet Soda
Different soft drink manufacturers utilize varying non-sugar and artificial sweeteners to replace the sugar content in their products. Diet sodas may have one or a combination of sweeteners, including:
- Sucralose: Brand name Splenda, sucralose contains chlorinated sugar molecules. Your body does not absorb these altered molecules, so sucralose passes through without calories.
- Aspartame: With the brand name NutraSweet, zero-calorie aspartame contains methyl esters of aspartic acid and phenylalanine dipeptide.
- Acesulfame Potassium: Also known as acesulfame-K or ace-K, acesulfame potassium has the brand name Sweet One or Sunett. It has a bitter aftertaste, and no calories.
- Saccharin: This zero calorie sweetener has been in use since the sugar shortages of World War I. It has zero calories and a bitter aftertaste.
- Sugar Alcohols: These are neither sugars nor alcohols. Instead, they are polyols, which are natural substances
- Stevia: This sweet herb provides natural sweetness without calories.
Diet sodas may also contain sodium, caffeine, phosphoric acid, artificial colors, and citric acid.
Effects of Diet Soft Drinks on Your Health
The effects of diet soft drinks on your health may vary according to which soft drinks you choose; however, in general you may expect some of the following health effects from regular consumption of diet soda.
- Effects on blood sugar: MayoClinic.com suggests that soft drinks containing artificial sweeteners do not affect blood sugar, while those containing sugar alcohols may cause it to rise. While some sweeteners may not cause a rise in blood sugar, artificial sweeteners may trigger sugar cravings, leading people to eat sugary foods, which will cause blood sugar to rise.
- Hydration: Sodas that contain caffeine serve as diuretics, leading to dehydration.
- Addiction: Caffeine is also a very addictive substance, and drinking sodas that contain caffeine every day may lead to dependence. Missing your daily caffeine infusion can lead to exhaustion, headaches, and many other health problems.
- Sodium: Some sodas contain high levels of sodium, which can lead to a rise in blood pressure and water retention.
- Cephalic phase response: Your body is an efficient machine. When you eat sweets, your liver and pancreas respond to the sugar in them. When you eat a calorie-free sweetener, your body may prime the organs to respond just as if you had eaten something with sugar; however, when no sugar appears, it triggers insulin release and food cravings, which can lead to weight gain.
- Dental problems: The acid in diet sodas (and regular pop) can lead to teeth enamel erosion.
- Gastric upset: Sodas containing sugar alcohols may lead to gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
Safety of Artificial Sweeteners
The FDA regulates artificial sweeteners as a food additive, and has generally recognized the ingredients as safe; however, the long-term effects remain largely unknown. No scientific studies show the dangers of the sweeteners, although anecdotal reports suggest a multitude of symptoms including:
- Body aches
- Neurological problems
- Gastric update
The Bottom Line
An occasional soft drink probably won't lead to health problems; however, drinking several a day may not be your best bet. Instead, drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and healthy. If you do drink diet sodas as a regular part of your diet, you may want to talke to your doctor about it as some endocrinologists discourage the use of diet sodas.