The risk or benefit of drinking diet soda continues to be a hotly debated topic.
Unfortunately, there is no one easy answer. It depends on the individual, their health goals, and their current diet and lifestyle choices.
However, the myths about diet soda abound, and a few facts can guide our choices.
Myth: Diet Soda Can Help You Lose Weight
Whether diet soda is helpful for weight loss remains unclear in the scientific literature.
Anecdotally, many people report they lose weight after switching from regular soda to a diet. However, studies have demonstrated that daily consumption of this drink results in a higher chance of obesity and increased abdominal fat. (1, 2)
At the same time, some studies have shown the opposite result. In one study, replacing high-calorie beverages with diet versions resulted in 2-2.5% weight loss. (3) But, whether those results were maintained long-term is less clear.
So, how do we make sense of the link between diet soda and weight? In fact, making a blanket statement that diet soda is good for weight loss is undoubtedly a myth. However, that does not mean switching from regular soda to a diet version won’t help YOU lose weight. It all comes down to your individual situation.
So, if you currently drink a lot of regular soda, switching to a diet might be a good first step.
Myth: Diet Soda is Better For You Than Regular Soda
This statement is a bit like saying e-cigarettes are better for you than regular cigarettes. Of course, no one would advocate you go out and begin smoking either one.
We know regular soda isn’t good for you. It’s an ultra-processed food that contains high amounts of sugar. In fact, regular sugar-sweetened soda is strongly linked to a higher risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes. (4, 5)
At the same time, a diet version doesn’t fare much better. Frequent consumption has been linked to an increased risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. (6, 7)
There is no clear winner in this debate, and each type of soda appears to carry some risk.
Fact: Diet Soda is an Ultra-processed Food
Ingredient names like “caramel color,” “aspartame,” and “potassium benzoate” are clues to the processed nature of the drink. A high intake of ultra-processed food is linked to many negative health consequences. (8)
A healthy, plant-based diet likely doesn’t conjure images of a can of diet cola. However, everyone is at a different place in their healthy eating journey, and diet soda might have a role to play for you.
Fact: It Should be Consumed in Moderation or Not At All
Based on what we know about diet soda, a general dietary guideline is that its intake should be minimized. How this recommendation applies to you depends on the current state of your diet.
If you currently drink a lot of regular soda or sugary beverages, a diet version might be a good stepping stone to a healthier diet. In fact, if you currently drink a lot of diet soda, cutting back is probably the place to start.
Additionally, if you love this drink so much but want to avoid ultra-processed food, maybe drinking your favorite one once or twice a week would make you happy.
You have to take the information available and choose what is best for you in the context of your current diet and your long-term health goals. It’s a myth that there is one right answer, and it’s certainly a fact that you can build a healthy diet that works for you.