Do you love to kick back with a can of ice cold diet soda on a hot summer day? You’re only human. It’s sweet, it’s fizzy, it’s refreshing—and the fact that you don’t have to ingest any real "sugar" feels like a nice bonus. That's why, when diet soda first hit the market in the 1950s, it seemed like the answer to everyone’s prayers, from diabetics to people who were looking to cut back on sugar and calories.
Then came the scary studies: It could be bad for your heart, it could cause headaches, and it might even actually make you gain weight. It's not all cut and dried, though. In fact, the research conflicts itself in certain instances. One study concluded that diet soda can be pretty harmless.
Long story short, when it comes to scientific research, it seems that the jury is still out on exactly how bad diet soda is for you. Seeing as we're planning on wrapping up summer with a few more weekends spent beach and poolside (and diet soda is usually a part of those plans), we decided to take this debate to the experts. Keep scrolling to see what health experts have to say about whether or not you should pop open that can of diet soda.
About those ingredients...
Sorry, but the ingredients in your diet soda are pretty bad. Nutritionist Karina Heinrich, founder of The Karina Method, says diet soda derails our health in toxic ways. “Instead of sugar, diet soda is sweetened with artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose and tons of unrecognizable and unpronounceable sweetness that isn’t so sweet on our bodies like cyclamate, saccharin and acesulfame-k.”
Michelle Cady, an NYC-based health coach and author of Self Care In The City, adds that the ingredients in diet soda are exactly what she teaches her clients to avoid. “Dyes, natural flavors, and zero calorie sweeteners like aspartame have been linked to inflammation or even potentially cancer-causing,” she explains.
That's bad news, but the packaging makes it even worse. You see, labels make it seem healthier than it really is. “Some varieties are adding vitamins to them and slap that marketing on their cans and have little to no calories but most also all have little to no nutrition either,” Heinrich says.
OK, so we know diet soda isn’t good for us, per se—and yes, those ingredients are pretty lousy. But is it really that bad to have it once in a while? Cady says that when it comes to health, it’s more important to pay attention to what you do every day than what you do once in a while. “I'm human and cave in to a Diet Coke craving once or twice a month,” she admits. “It's most important to consider what you do every day. Do you have soda or diet soda every day or multiple times per day? Then you need to get serious about swapping out your soda fix for seltzer options, flavored water or teas. There are so many better options on the market these days.”
How diet soda stacks up compared to regular soda...
Cady says that if you absolutely have to have soda, it’s probably better to go diet. “I can't get on board with 39 grams of sugar in a can of regular soda,” she says. “That causes an immediate sugar spike and is a strong precursor to insulin resistance and eventually diabetes.”
Heinrich, on the other hand, thinks diet soda is just as bad as the regular, sugar-filled stuff. “I personally feel that drinking diet soda is just as bad as stuffing your face with the highest sugar bomb cupcake you can find a few times a day,” she says, adding that if you’re craving a flavor boost or caffeine fix, you should try drinking black coffee, green tea, or adding natural flavors to your water, like cucumbers or berries. “Trust me, nothing good can come from your diet soda habit,” she says.
If you’re drinking diet soda every day, yes, you should probably cut back in a big way. Cady says that her clients who drink diet soda every day also typically struggle with issues like anxiety, insomnia, poor skin, and digestive issues. “Once we take out the biggest culprit (diet soda) and start adding in more real food nutrition, healthy fats, targeted supplements and water to their day, then their health symptoms start to improve dramatically,” she explains.
The good news, though, is that you’re probably not harming your long-term health in a big way by drinking diet soda once or twice a month. As they say, everything in moderation!
Next up, read all about one editor's experience getting her first skin check at age 30 (and why you shouldn't wait).