Do you love to kick back with a can of ice cold diet soda? 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.
Is Diet Soda Bad for You?
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. So 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.
Meet the Expert
- Karina Heinrich is a Chicago-based certified integrative nutritionist and celebrity health coach.
- Michelle (Cady) Baker is an NYC-based health coach and author of Self Care In The City.
What 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 Baker, 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? Baker 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 Does Diet Soda Stack Up Compared to Regular Soda?
Baker 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. Baker 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 Final Takeaway
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!
Sylvetsky AC, Figueroa J, Zimmerman T, Swithers SE, Welsh JA. Consumption of low‐calorie sweetened beverages is associated with higher total energy and sugar intake among children, NHANES 2011–2016. Pediatric Obesity. 2019;14(10). doi:10.1111/ijpo.12535
Stanhope KL, Goran MI, Bosy-westphal A, et al. Pathways and mechanisms linking dietary components to cardiometabolic disease: thinking beyond calories. Obes Rev. 2018;19(9):1205-1235. doi:10.1111/obr.12699
Choudhary AK, Pretorius E. Revisiting the safety of aspartame. Nutr Rev. 2017;75(9):718-730. doi:10.1093/nutrit/nux035
Ma J, Jacques PF, Meigs JB, et al. Sugar-Sweetened Beverage but Not Diet Soda Consumption Is Positively Associated with Progression of Insulin Resistance and Prediabetes. J Nutr. 2016;146(12):2544-2550. doi:10.3945/jn.116.234047