Me and Diet Coke go way back.
Probably high school? There was a time when I was younger that I drank regular Coke and LOVED Fruitopia (does anyone remember Fruitopia??), but at some point I switched over to Diet Coke “for my figure” and it quickly became a fixture in my life.
I remember in college walking half a mile each way from my apartment to the c-store on campus, just to grab a 20-ounce Diet Coke. Granted, the walking wasn’t so bad, but the fact that I would do it just for a Diet Coke… yikes.
Unfortunately, I’ve never been one of those people who could just have one every once in a while. I crave it too badly, and I can only control my cravings if I’ve absolutely cold-turkey stopped drinking it.
I’m about a week strong right now, and one of my goals for 2020 is to break the addiction once and for all. Because it’s looking like diet sodas – even though they’re calorie-free – are not that great for you. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Diet sodas are linked to an increased risk of certain diseases
To be clear though, the research is NOT definitive on this. Many of these long-term studies measure food and beverage intake based on food frequency questionnaires, which are surveys that assess how much a person eats per week or per month of different foods. For example, it make ask how many eggs you eat or how many cups of soda you drink in one week.
As you can imagine, these questionnaires are notoriously unreliable, as people can and do lie about what they eat (especially to researchers). Not to mention, it’s hard to remember and estimate how much of a certain food you eat within a specified time period.
In addition, it’s hard to tell if these study participants drank diet soda from the very start or may have switched to diet soda at some point in their lives prior to the study.
SO, there’s a correlation there. This does not mean that diet soda causes these diseases, but I did want to share the research with you guys.
2. They may actually promote weight gain
Diet sodas don’t really help you lose weight either.
Some studies show that people who drink diet soda are more likely to be overweight or obese. However, this might be because overweight or obese people are more likely to drink diet soda in an attempt to lose weight.
Of course, when you replace sugar-sweetened beverages with diet soda then you will lose weight. The question is, does this last?
One 9-year-long study found a strong dose-response relationship between diet soda and weight gain. Translated: the more diet soda these study participants drank, the more weight they gained.
Additionally, some studies show that long-term use of artificial sweeteners may actually cause you to eat more calories. There are a variety of reasons for this. Such as…
3. They cause an insulin response
Although non-caloric sweeteners – like those in diet sodas – don’t affect your blood sugar, they can actually cause an insulin response.
Insulin is the hormone that your body releases after it senses sugar, in order to help shuttle any excess sugar from your blood stream and maintain your blood sugar levels. In the presence of excess sugar, insulin takes what can’t immediately be used for energy and signals your body to store it as fat.
One interesting study found that diet soda and artificially-sweetened water both increased insulin levels. It’s hypothesized that the sweet taste primes your body to release insulin because it expects sugar.
So, what is the significance of this?
Many people who are overweight or obese have some degree of insulin resistance. Their body is kind of numb to insulin, so it doesn’t work as well as it should. In these instances, your body will actually secrete even more insulin to get the job done.
This is the start of a vicious cycle. Chronically high insulin levels translate to more stored body fat, then more hunger to make sure that your blood sugar levels stay regular because your body can’t access that stored fat, then your body secretes too much insulin in response to the food you just ate so some of that sugar will be stored as body fat, and then you get hungry again… and so on and so on.
If your goal is to lose weight, you really want to lower your insulin levels so you’re not stuck in “fat storage” mode. So, it’s looking like diet sodas are not very helpful in that regard.
4. The artificial sweeteners may disrupt your gut bacteria
If you’re a pretty healthy person, your trillions of gut bacteria are all working together to keep you that way. Not only does gut health affect digestion, it also affects immunity, energy production and metabolism, and even brain function. Keeping your gut bacteria healthy is SO important for your health.
Artificial sweeteners, however, can disrupt the healthy balance of bacteria in your gut, potentially wreaking havoc on your health.
5. The phosphorus may weaken your bones
Dark sodas like Diet Coke contain a lot of phosphorus.
At my full-time job (in a dialysis unit), phosphorus is a HUGE deal. In people with kidney disease who can’t excrete excess phosphorus in their urine, it builds up in the blood – signaling the body to pull calcium from the bones… which then has to land somewhere. In essence, it softens their bones and hardens their blood vessels. NOT GOOD!
Although it’s a natural mineral and we do need it, phosphorus is a ubiquitous food additive and it’s in so many foods that now most people are getting way too much of it.
Adults in the U.S. consume about twice as much phosphorus as they need, much of it coming from food additives that are nearly 100% bioavailable (read: absorbed by the body), compared to natural phosphorus which is typically only 30-60% bioavailable.
And unfortunately, it’s starting to look like even people with healthy kidneys may have weaker bones because of this phosphorus overload.
Here are two easy ways to consume fewer phosphorus additives: ditch dark sodas, and eat less processed food.
6. They’re addictive
Diet sodas are addictive. Maybe not for everyone, in the same way that not everyone who smokes a cigarette becomes addicted. And definitely not as addictive as – let’s say – meth, but they are addictive nonetheless.
Anecdotally, I can confirm this. When I drink diet soda, my sugar cravings are nearly unmanageable, but when avoid it, my sweet tooth is much easier to manage.
In addition, the caffeine found in many diet sodas is a known addictive substance. Although I can manage without Diet Coke, I certainly can’t manage without my coffee. But that’s another story for another day.
So what should you drink?
If you can drink a diet soda every once in while without craving them and slowly sneaking more and more and more into your daily life, more power to you. Keep doing what you’re doing, as long as it’s working for you.
Additionally, if you need to lose weight and you drink regular soda, switching to diet soda will help you drop some weight (at least, at first).
However, if you’re like me, and drinking any diet soda at all becomes a slippery slope to drinking way too much, you should consider cutting it from your diet.
However, I don’t recommend replacing it with regular sugar-sweetened soda. Sugar has plenty of problems on its own.
My go-to’s are coffee, unsweet tea, and good ol’ water. But if you’re looking for something a little different…
Spritz Tea: a tasty new alternative
Last November I had the chance to try a new drink called Spritz Tea before it launched. It is a sparkling tea (yes, tea!) made with really great ingredients, so you know I am all about it.
It comes in two flavors – hibiscus and green tea (they’re both delicious). AND it’s lightly carbonated and sweetened with natural, plant-based sweeteners – making it an perfect alternative if you’re trying to drop your diet soda habit, like me.
It’s got the bubbles, the refreshing flavors, and the hint of sweetness to satisfy a diet soda craving without the phosphorus additives or artificial sweeteners.
Along with making a really tasty beverage, the Spritz team donates 1% of their profit to nonprofits and business initiatives for women.
If you happen to be in the Columbus, Ohio area, you can purchase Spritz Tea at some local retailers. The rest of us though, we’ll have to order online (for now)!
I’m also teaming up with Spritz for a fun New Year’s giveaway! Find all the details on my Facebook. If your New Year’s resolution is to ditch diet soda, Spritz Tea can make achieving that goal A LOT easier!