Many of us think of diet soda as a way to get our soda and drink it too. You get the experience of drinking soda, but not the calories and sugar that come with it. And while health experts aren’t exactly enthusiastic about diet sodas, researchers are still scrambling to figure out exactly what they do to the human body.
First things first: Drink one to two cans of diet soda a day. likely won’t hurt you – and contrary to popular belief, there is no credible evidence that diet sodas cause cancer, even though a possible connection is still under constant study.
But it can be helpful to know how diet sodas can affect your body in not-so-great ways, especially if you consume them regularly. Here’s everything you need to know.
Diet soda may contribute to weight gain
If you think diet sodas can help you lose weight, you might want to think twice about this theory. Even though diet sodas don’t contain any sugar or calories, they can actually make you crave sugar. According to a 2021 study, drinks made with sucralose — a calorie-free sweetener used in many diet sodas — can stimulate the appetite in some people. Another study found that the artificial sweeteners aspartame and saccharin are linked to increased appetite and an increased risk of obesity.
In addition, an older study from 2010 found that aspartame and sucralose may increase sugar cravings.
Diet sodas may increase your risk of heart disease
Some research suggests that diet sodas could harm your heart health. “Diet sodas are often loaded with artificial sweeteners, which can have harmful effects on blood sugar and insulin sensitivity. Additionally, diet sodas tend to be acidic, which can promote inflammation and contribute to heart disease,” explained Dr. Alice Williamsa physicist.
Williams also noted that one study found that daily diet soda consumption was associated with increased “vascular events,” meaning vascular deaths, strokes, and myocardial infarctions.
Diet sodas could harm your gut health
If you’re working to keep your gut health on track, you might want to be wary of diet sodas. NOTNutritious sweeteners found in diet drinks, such as polyols, could negatively impact your gut health, according to Divya Nair, head of microbiology at probiotics company Sun Genomics.
“A study examined the effect of polyols on healthy patients and patients with IBS”, Nair said. “Gastrointestinal symptoms have been observed in both healthy individuals and in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), including symptoms such as bloating, abdominal discomfort, and laxative effects when they are consumed in healthy volunteers and patients with IBS.”
Diet sodas could cause headaches
If you’re prone to headaches, you might want to look into your diet soda habit. “Soda without sugars [often] contains caffeine, and caffeine can cause headaches in some people because it constricts blood vessels,” Williams said. “Additionally, caffeine is a diuretic, which can lead to dehydration, another possible cause of headaches.”
If you are one of those people who have headaches without caffeine, there is also evidence that artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose are correlated with headaches.
Diet sodas may negatively impact brain health
According to Dr. Annie Fenn, physician, culinary instructor, and founder of Brain Health Kitchen, when diet sodas are consumed regularly, they can have a detrimental impact on short- and long-term brain health.
“In one of the most compelling studies to date, published in the journal Stroke, researchers at Boston University analyzed the drinking habits of more than 4,000 healthy participants between 1998 and 2011,” she said. “After adjusting the results for confounding factors such as age, sex, education, calorie intake, diet quality, physical activity and smoking, men and women who drink diet sodas ended up getting Alzheimer’s disease 2.89 times more and strokes 2.96 times more than those who did not drink diet sodas.
And the results show that the risks increased with each serving of diet soda consumed, she added.
Diet sodas can make it difficult to stabilize blood sugar
A small study published in August revealed that the artificial sweeteners sucralose and saccharin can interfere with the body’s insulin response.
“When an impaired insulin response occurs multiple times a day for years, it can lead to insulin resistance, which means target organs (like your brain) no longer respond to insulin” , said Fenn. “The result? Glucose moves freely through the bloodstream, creating inflammatory particles that seep through the blood-brain barrier and damage the tiny blood vessels there.
Diet soda may decrease 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, according to Williams. “As a result, regular diet soda consumption may increase the risk of osteoporosis,” she said.
Additionally, a study found that drinking regular cola and diet cola—but not other soft drinks—is associated with lower bone mass density in women.
Although this information may not be the better news for the diet soda drinkers among us, keep in mind that the actual effects of diet sodas on the body are still under investigation. But if you want to err on the side of caution, it’s probably best to keep your diet soda intake on the moderate side.