It's easy to see why people drink diet soda - it's refreshing, it tastes nearly as good as the real thing and it satisfies our sugar cravings, without all those pesky calories. This billion-dollar industry has been deemed safe by government authorities, so what could be wrong with reaching for that diet soda every now and then?
Here's why: diet soda has a number of negative effects on your body. Aspartame, cyclamate, saccharin (a derivative of tar), acesulfame-k or sucralose are all chemical sweeteners found in diet soda that are hundreds of times sweeter than normal table sugar, and what they do to our bodies is totally counter-productive to the reason most of us drink diet soda: to avoid sugar and keep our weight down. There are many reasons why diet soda is just as bad as regular soda, but here are 10 that'll make you put that drink down right away.
1) Your body doesn't know it's artificial. When we ingest these artificial sweeteners we may not be taking in all the calories of real sugar, but our bodies react in the same way, according to Health. They trigger insulin, sending our bodies into fat storage mode, and guess what that results in? Weight gain. Studies over a ten year period showed that participants who drank diet soda had a 70% greater increase in waist circumference than those who didn't, and those who drank two or more per day had a staggering 500% greater increase. That's a huge amount of weight gain for a product that includes "diet" in its name.
2) It is bad for your blood vessels. LiveScience asked a number of doctors for their opinion on diet soda, and while all agreed that we need to reduce our sugar intake, one physician from Colombia University said that diet soda is no better for you than regular soda. He referred to a study which associated drinking diet soda with an increased risk of strokes, heart attacks, and other blood vessel diseases.
3) We don't know the long-term effects. In the same LiveScience article, an epidemiologist from the University of Texas states that individuals differ greatly in their reactions to artificial sweeteners and that the potential for irreversible cumulative effects cannot be ignored. She equates our ignorance about diet sodas with being "in the middle of a large-scale experiment" which includes "pouring large volumes of artificial chemicals into our bodies day after day." As she rightly points out, how could there not be any consequences from that?
4) Diet soda is linked to depression. Research on just under a quarter of a million people showed that over a period of ten years, those who drank soda were 30% more likely to be diagnosed with depression, according to Authority Nutrition. This link was stronger for those who drank diet soda over regular soda.
5) It has been linked to diabetes. Health cites a study where participants who drank just one diet soda a day had a 36% increased risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Metabolic syndrome describes a range of conditions including high blood pressure, elevated glucose and large waist circumference.
6) You'll lose your sense of taste. According to Prevention, aspartame ranks 200 times sweeter than normal table sugar. Sucralose (AKA Splenda) is a massive 600 times sweeter. Moral of the story? Your tastebuds are overwhelmed with sweetness and other foods lose their flavor. Studies from Columbia University have also shown that diet soda alters the receptors in your brain so that instead of satisfying sugar cravings, it prolongs them.
7) It can cause kidney problems. A 2009 study of over 3,000 women showed a link between diet soda and kidney problems, Clark says. The women who drank two or more sodas every day had up to a 30% decline in kidney function.
8) Aspartame has been linked to headaches. Early studies have linked aspartame to migraines and headaches, according to Health. This may only act as a trigger for some people, but if you suffer from regular headaches it could be worth putting down that diet soda and seeing if it makes a difference. Prevention adds that laboratory studies have shown aspartame can alter brain chemicals, nerve signals and the brain's reward system, leading to headaches.
9) It increases the risk of pre-term delivery. Authority Nutrition cites a study of nearly 60,000 pregnant women in Denmark, in which one diet soda per day was associated with a 38% increased risk of pre-term delivery. Four diet sodas per day increased the risk by 78%.
10) It'll ruin your smile. Health cites a study in which the teeth of a cocaine user, a methamphetamine user, and a diet soda drinker were examined over time. Guess what? They all had the same level of tooth erosion. The citric acid in diet soda destroys the enamel on your teeth over time.
There is really only one justification used for drinking diet soda, and that is to reduce our sugar intake and combat the obesity crisis of today. But is that a valid justification when diet soda has been shown to contribute to obesity, heart disease, depression, and diabetes just as significantly as regular soda? Try steering away from soda altogether, and crave your thirst with good old H2O, moderate amounts of fresh, vitamin-rich fruit juice, or unsweetened iced tea, which is rich in antioxidants.