Many of us think of diet soda as a way to have and drink our soda. You get the experience of drinking soda, but not the calories and sugar that come with it. And while health experts aren’t exactly thrilled with diet soda, researchers are still working to understand exactly what it does to the human body.
First things first: drink one to two cans of diet soda a day probably won’t hurt you – and contrary to popular belief, there is no credible evidence that diet soda causes cancer, although a possible connection is still being studied continuously.
But it can be helpful to know how diet soda can affect your body in a not-so-great way, especially if you’re a regular user of it. Here’s everything you need to know.
Diet Soda May Contribute to Weight Gain
If you think diet soda can help you lose weight, you may want to think twice about that theory. Although diet soda has no sugar or calories, it can make you crave sugar. According to a 2021 study, drinks made with sucralose — a low-calorie sweetener used in many diet sodas — can stimulate appetite in some people. Another study found that the artificial sweeteners aspartame and saccharin are linked to an increase in appetite and an increased risk of obesity.
Additionally, an older study from 2010 found that aspartame and sucralose could increase sugar cravings.
Diet Soda May Raise Your Risk of Heart Disease
There is some research to suggest that diet soda may be harmful to your heart health. “Diet sodas are often loaded with artificial sweeteners, which can have harmful effects on blood sugar and insulin sensitivity. In addition, diet sodas are often acidic, which can promote inflammation and contribute to heart disease,” explains Dr. Alice Williamsa doctor.
Williams also noted that a study found that drinking diet soda daily was associated with an increase in “vascular events,” meaning vascular death, stroke and myocardial infarction.
Diet Soda Can Harm Your Gut Health
If you’re working to keep your gut health on track, you may want to be wary of diet soda. NAccording to Divya Nair, the head of microbiology at the probiotic company Sun Genomics, nutritional sweeteners found in diet drinks, such as polyols, can negatively impact your gut health.
“A study looked at the effect of polyols on both healthy and IBS patients,” Nair said. “Gastrointestinal symptoms were observed in both healthy individuals and patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), including symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain and laxative effects when consumed in healthy volunteers and patients with IBS.”
Diet soda can cause headaches
If you are prone to headaches, you may want to examine your diet soda habit. “Diet soft drink [often] contains caffeine, and caffeine can cause headaches in some people because it constricts blood vessels,” Williams said. “In addition, caffeine is a diuretic, which can lead to dehydration, another possible cause of headaches.”
If you are one of those people who gets headaches without caffeine, there is also some evidence that artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose are correlated with headaches.
Diet Soda Can Negatively Affect Brain Health
When consumed regularly, diet sodas can adversely affect brain health in the short and long term, according to Dr. Annie Fenn, a physician, culinary instructor and founder of Brain Health Kitchen.
“In one of the most compelling studies to date, published in the journal Heart attack, researchers at Boston University analyzed the drinking habits of more than 4,000 healthy participants between 1998 and 2011,” she said. “After adjusting for confounding factors such as age, gender, education, caloric intake, quality of diet, physical activity and smoking, the diet soda-drinking men and women ended up developing Alzheimer’s disease 2.89 times and 2 96 times more strokes compared to those who didn’t drink diet soda.”
And the results show that risks increased with each serving of diet soda consumed, she added.
Diet soda can make blood sugar stabilization difficult
A small study published in August found that the artificial sweeteners sucralose and saccharin can interfere with the body’s insulin response.
“When a decreased insulin response occurs several times a day for years, it can lead to insulin resistance, meaning that target organs (such as your brain) no longer respond to insulin,” Fenn said. “The result? Glucose wanders freely in the bloodstream, creating inflammatory particles that seep through the blood-brain barrier and damage the small blood vessels there.”
Diet soda can reduce bone density
Diet sodas may be correlated with decreased bone density, due to the fact that diet sodas contain high levels of phosphates, which can leach calcium from bones, Williams said. “As a result, regular diet soda consumption may increase the risk of osteoporosis,” she said.
In addition, a study found that intake of both regular cola and diet cola — but not other carbonated drinks — are associated with lower bone density in women.
While this information may not be the best news for the diet soda drinkers among us, keep in mind that what diet soda actually does to the body is still being studied. But if you want to be careful, it’s probably best to keep your diet soda consumption on the moderate side.