Is diet soda bad for you? Specifically, does it actually help you lose weight?
Long story short, no. In fact, a Purdue researcher says public health officials should tell people to avoid diet soda much like they do with regular, sugar-sweetened soda. Susan E. Swithers, PhD, a professor of psychological sciences and a behavioral neuroscientist at Purdue says warnings may need to be expanded to include limiting intake of all sweeteners, including no-calorie sweeteners. (1)
Swithers reviewed a set of recent studies aiming to answer the question, “Is diet soda bad for you?” She found that about 30 percent of American adults and 15 percent of American children ingest artificial sweeteners, including aspartame, sucralose and saccharin.
“There is a lot of pressure from the public health sector to find solutions to counter the rise of obesity and chronic disease, and there is a lot of money and business at stake for the food industry as it develops and promotes these products. Beverages are becoming political issues as government leaders and politicians seek regulation and taxing to limit their availability and consumption, but most of these measures exclude diet soft drinks because they are perceived as healthy. When it comes to making policy decisions, it’s more important than ever that the science is considered and that the public understands what the science says in order to help them make the best health decisions.” — Susan Swithers
Artificial sweeteners seem to confuse the body’s natural ability to manage calories based on tasting something sweet. People tend to them overeat even if they drink diet soda. And get this: People who consume artificial sweeteners are twice as likely to develop metabolic syndrome, too. (2)
Is Diet Soda Bad for You?
Beyond that, there’s lots of research linking diet soda drinking to all sorts of health troubles.
Drinking more than four cans a day of soda is linked to a 30 percent higher risk of depression. On the flip side, drinking four cups of coffee a day seemed to offer protective effects, lowering depression risk 10 percent. The risk appeared to be greater for people who drank diet soda compared to regular soda. (3)
Harvard researchers found long-term diet soda drinking causes a 30 percent greater reduction in kidney function. The study looked at people who regularly consumed diet soda over 20 years. (4)
Type 2 Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome
A 2009 study published in the journal Diabetes Care found drinking diet soda daily is linked to a 36 percent higher risk of metabolic syndrome and a 67 percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes compared to non-diet soda drinkers. (5)
In fact, the artificial sweeteners may tamper with the gut-brain connection. This can lead to brain trickery that leads to “metabolic derangements.” Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel researchers were surprised when they found diet soda actually alters gut microbes in a way that increases the risk of metabolic diseases. When researchers fed mice zero-calorie sweeteners found in these drinks, including saccharin, aspartame and sucralose, they developed glucose intolerance. (6)
University of Miami and Columbia University researchers followed more than 2,000 adults for 10 years and found that those drinking diet soda daily were more likely to suffer a stroke or heart attack. They were also more likely to die from cardiovascular disease. This increase risk remained even when researchers adjusted for smoking, exercise, weight, sodium intake, high cholesterol, and other factors that could have contributed to the difference. (7, 8)
Drinking soda, including diet soda, increases your risk of developing asthma and COPD symptoms. The more soda a person drinks, the higher the risk. (That’s called a “dose-response relationship.”)
A Less Protected Brain
Aspartame, a common artificial sweetener in diet sodas, seems to chip away at the brain’s antioxidant defense system. The results of an animal study found long-term consumption of aspartame leads to an imbalance in the antioxidant/pro-oxidant status in the brain, mainly through the mechanism involving the glutathione-dependent system. (11)
Aspartame is also linked to: (12)
- migraines & headaches
- short term memory loss
- multiple sclerosis
- hearing loss
- weight gain
- brain tumors
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- birth defects
- Alzheimer’s disease
- arthritis (including rheumatoid)
- chemical sensitivities
Final Thoughts: Is Diet Soda Bad for You? (Yes.)
- Diet soda is not a healthier alternative to regular sugar-sweetened soda.
- Diet soda does not promote weight loss, contrary to popular belief.
- Diet soda is linked to metabolic damage, heart disease, weight gain and other health problems.
- If you’re in the mood for a fizzy drink, consider a much healthier option: kombucha.