Why Diet Soda May Backfire When It Comes to Weight Loss

Soda kind of deserves its bad reputation.

Pop is loaded with sugar, which is high in calories. As you know, a diet that is high in calories can contribute to weight gain. And weight gain can lead to a whole host of particularly thorny health challenges (diabetes and heart disease, just to name two of the many).

But diet soda contains no sugar and so it also contains no calories. Surely diet soda, which is just a mix of carbonated water, artificial sweeteners, and some coloring agents isn’t that bad for you, right?

In fact, diet soda seems like a great alternative to regular old pop, because all those numbers on the nutritional label read zero—no calories, carbs, or sugar.

At face value, that argument seems solid: You get enjoy the flavor of soda without all the dangers of soda. Plus, just how different is diet soda compared to seltzer? Both are no-calorie and no-sugar.

Except that the truth is a little more complicated than just the absence of calories and sugar. What’s worth considering, experts say, is that the sweetness of artificial sugar—which is far, far sweeter than the flavoring of any seltzer option—might be toying with your taste buds.

Plus, there’s the whole issue of what you should probably be drinking instead of diet soda for weight loss—and your general overall health.

And according to some dietitians, it turns out the diet soda may not be as healthy and good for your waistline after all. Here’s what dietitian Ilyse Schapiro, M.S., R.D., has to say about it.

What is Diet Soda?

Diet soda is a zero-calorie, sugar-free version of a carbonated beverages. For example: to give the diet soda its classic sweet taste, Diet Coke contains aspartame and Splenda, both of which are artificial sweeteners, which contain no actual sugar or calories.

That said, artificial sweeteners can be between 200 to 600 times sweeter than table sugar, says Schapiro. So while diet soda is calorie[ and sugar-free, it can still taste sugary.

Can Diet Soda Lead to Weight Gain?

While scientific evidence has not yet confirmed a direct link between diet soda or artificial sweeteners and weight gain, there may be some indirect associations.

“Consumption of these non-nutritive sweeteners and others, such as acesulfame K and saccharin, have been linked to heightened sugar cravings, weight gain, higher BMI’s, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease, and increased risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes,” Schapiro says. “Yet, it is unclear whether diet soda is the sole cause of these negative effects,” she adds.

These hyper-palatable sweeteners can disrupt and over-stimulate your sugar receptors, says Schapiro, and, as a result, diet soda drinkers may experience heightened sugar cravings and choose less nutritious foods.

Does Drinking Diet Soda Have and Side Effects?

Even though diet soda doesn’t have sugar or calories, it does still contain phosphorus, which if consumed in excess, may lead to deterioration of bone density with age and heighten risk of osteoporosis. (Yes, even in men!) Of course this doesn’t mean much if you have one or two, but if diet soda is your jam and you’re drinking them like water, they surely add up.

“Just one 12 oz. can of Diet Coke contains 27 mg of phosphorus, so chugging a few cans a day is not recommended,” she says. “Plus, drinking Diet Coke can cause bloating since gas is added to this beverage to create bubbles and carbonation,” she adds.

Due to its carbonation and artificial sweetener content, drinking diet soda can cause gas, bloating, upset stomach, and water retention. “These factors can reduce the number of healthy bacteria in the gut and alter the microbiome,” she says. (And that can make it seem like you’re gaining weight too—or at least retaining water, getting sick and not dropping those pounds.)

What’s more, there are no nutrients, so you’re not doing your body any favors that might aid in weight loss efforts “Although [diet soda] holds virtually no calories and the research on its health effects are conflicting, this popular drink holds no nutritional value to your overall diet,” she says.

The Bottom Line on Diet Soda and Weight Loss

If you’re a regular soda drinker, opt for unsweetened seltzer instead. “This sparkling beverage will still give you bubbles and no calories, but without the artificial flavors or potentially harmful additives,” she suggests.

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