5 Reasons Diet Soda Is Even Worse Than You Thought

May 10, 2016

After years of damning evidence about the damage sugar-sweetened sodas do to our bodies, more Americans than ever are finally giving it up. In fact, in the last Gallup “Consumption Habits” poll, 61 percent of respondents said they avoid regular soda—up from 41 percent in 2002. This is a good thing, for sure.

But diet soda may be no better—study after study has shown that the zero-calorie substitute comes with its own set of negative health problems. Here are five reasons diet soda may be even worse than you thought.

1. It’s bad for baby

A diet soda habit could impact your unborn child. Just this month, researchers believe they’ve found a connection between women who drink diet soda regularly and the likelihood that their child will be obese down the line.

2. It can harm your gut

In a study conducted last year and published in the journal Nature, scientists found that the artificial sweeteners in most diet sodas—chemicals like aspartame, sucralose, and saccharine—seem to alter gut bacteria (microbiome) and actually cause blood sugar to rise. That sets off a chain reaction that can lead to weight gain, diabetes, and other health problems. And, since research now shows the importance of gut health to whole-body wellness, having that diet soda probably isn’t worth the havoc it could wreak.

3. It can trigger weight gain in old age

It’s time to convince grandpa to kick his Diet Coke habit. According to the results of a longitudinal study published last year in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society, older adults who drank diet soda daily saw their waistlines increase more than 3 inches over nine years—that’s nearly four times more than non-soda-drinkers. Because gaining weight around the belly increases the risk of heart disease and metabolic syndrome, this change comes with some big health risks.

4. It’s tied to diabetes

This one might come as a surprise. Drinking one diet soda a day was associated with a 36 percent increased risk of metabolic syndrome and diabetes in a 2009 study.

5. It messes with your tastebuds

Because the sweeteners in most diet soda are actually more intense than regular sugar, drinking them regularly confuses the body and dulls the senses to healthier, naturally sweet flavors found in fruit and other foods. In other words, diet sodas may make you crave sugar even more. Artificial sweeteners can also trigger the release of insulin, leading the body to store fat and potentially causing weight gain.

Need one more reason to quit sodas altogether? If you’re drinking one of the major brands, you’re still contributing to the deceptive marketing tactics that attempt to get young people around the world hooked on sugary sodas. This is one of the reasons why the big soda companies aren’t too worried about the decline of consumption in the West: their consumer base in the global East and South is big enough to make up for the amount of people who are quitting on this side of the world.

If you’ve quit regular soda, bravo—but the research clearly shows that it won’t do you much good unless you quit all soda.

Photo credit: Darren Muir via Stocksy

This article is related to:

Educational, Food, Health, News, Nutrition

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Steve Holt

Steve Holt's stories about food, nutrition and food politics are found at Civil Eats, TakePart.com, Boston Magazine, and elsewhere. He's been featured in the Best Food Writing anthology. Follow his tweets and Instagrams @thebostonwriter.

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