Is it time to ditch diet soda? Many people believe diet soda is a healthier option than the sugar-laden soda alternative – it’s less calories, after all. But the more we learn about these artificially sweetened beverages, the more we understand that diet sodas aren’t a healthy option. In fact, they can have a detrimental impact on your health.
Not only has research linked diet soda-sipping with a tripled increase in belly fat in older adults, but it’s also linked the artificially sweetened drinks with other health problems. One study, published in the journal Stroke in April 2017, found that drinking just one artificially sweetened drink a day seems to increase the risk of stroke or dementia nearly threefold, compared with drinking less than one a week.
So grab an unsweetened iced tea and read on. Here’s the skinny about diet soda’s worse-than-ever downsides.
A wider waistline
The waistlines of daily diet soda drinkers expanded three inches over nine years in a recent University of Texas study, while non-drinkers’ middles enlarged by less than one inch. Even occasional users had wider middles: They gained 1.8 inches – enough to make your favorite pants, skirt or dress too tight to wear. It’s more than a fashion problem. An expanding waistline is a sign you’re putting on more visceral fat, the deep belly fat that wraps around internal organs and even builds up in your liver, raising risk for heart disease and diabetes.
All-over weight gain
When the same researchers looked at weight among diet soda drinkers and abstainers, they found a surprising connection. People with a serious diet-soda habit (they drank at least three servings a day) were twice as likely to be overweight or obese as people who skip soda. Over seven to eight years, diet soda sippers gained an average of 1.5 more pounds than soda-skippers, too.
A fluke? Not at all. An American Cancer Society study that tracked 78,694 women for a year found that diet soda drinkers gained nearly two pounds more than non-users.
Higher risk for health problems
Three other studies found that even one diet soda a day boosts odds for developing metabolic syndrome – a precursor to diabetes and heart disease – by 34 to 44 percent. And yet another study found that a daily diet soda habit increased risk for type 2 diabetes by whopping 67 percent! Combined with the latest research linking diet soda to an increased risk of stroke and dementia, it’s no wonder a Purdue University neuroscientist who’s looked into diet soda’s effects told Time magazine recently “Right now, the data indicate that over the long term, people who drink even one diet soda a day are at higher risk for adverse health outcomes that they are probably drinking diet sodas to try to avoid, like type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension and stroke.”
What’s going on?
It’s easy to chalk it up to “magical calorie math” – thinking it’s OK to grab a second slice of pizza because you’re saving calories with a diet soda. But research suggests artificial sweeteners in soda (and probably in other foods, too) are backfiring in much deeper ways that rev up appetite and alter metabolism.
Artificial sweeteners may increase appetite by giving the brain a taste of something sweet without delivering the calories that would dial back hunger and cravings, lab studies suggest. A study from Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science found that artificial sweeteners may also interfere with intestinal bacteria in ways that boost risk for pre-diabetes and diabetes.
The solution? Sip smarter. Choose naturally low-cal drinks like unsweetened tea or coffee (hot or iced) or water or club soda flavored with lemon, lime, or even a slice of cucumber or a strawberry (yum!). It’s easier than you think.