Green tea, whole juices and coconut water are all healthy drinks perfect for midday sipping. But when you’re searching for a drink with a bit of caffeine to give you a boost for the day, you might be tempted to reach for a diet soda, believing it to be a healthier choice than coffee or sugary colas.
Yes, diet soda has zero calories. And yes, it’s an inexpensive and tasty way to get your caffeine fix. But the health effects associated with consuming it are more serious than you think. Headaches, cravings, mood swings and more are the results of drinking diet soda too frequently. Here are some facts that might make you rethink your drink of choice.
Many diet sodas are sweetened with aspartame, an artificial sweetener that is sweeter than sugar. New flavors of Diet Coke released in 2018 are sweetened with “Ace-K,” a controversial sweetener that tastes 200 times sweeter than regular refined sugar. Some studies have linked the sweeteners in diet soda to headaches, suggesting they might trigger the pain. And studies have also shown that people who consume foods with artificial sweeteners are more likely to shun healthier food options for other artificially flavored food and are twice as likely to be obese compared to people who didn’t drink diet soda.
It may not be greasy or sugary, but diet soda is still one of the foods and drinks that can cause breakouts. Diet soda can dry out your skin, making you more prone to acne and dark circles. If you’re suffering from dry skin, one of these remedies might help, but simply swapping diet soda for a glass of water or a cup of tea could do the job as well.
In a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, a survey of 263,925 adults nationwide indicated a correlation between the consumption of diet soda and a higher chance of a depression diagnosis. Soda drinkers overall were 30% more likely to be depressed, and diet soda added another 22% of risk into the equation.
In a 2006 study, it was concluded that women who drank diet soda had significantly lower bone mineral density than those who abstained. Low bone mineral density can set you up for osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to become weak and brittle. Trade in the diet soda for foods like Brussel sprouts and sweet potatoes, both of which keep your bones healthy and strong.
Gut health is important. The healthier your gut, the healthier your digestive tract. And the healthier your digestive tract, the easier it is for your body to properly digest food. But a study published in the scientific journal Nature revealed that diet soda may disrupt your gut health. Your gut has a balance of "good" and "bad" bacteria. According to the study, the artificial sweeteners that are included in diet soda may alter the type and function of the bacteria in your gut microbiome.
In a study published by the Canadian Science journal, it was revealed that aspartame, the artificial sweetener used in many diet sodas, decreases the activity of certain enzymes in your gut. The decrease in enzymes can lead to metabolic syndrome, a “cluster of conditions” that can cause weight fluctuations, heart disease, stroke and even death. Diet soda increases your risk of metabolic syndrome by more than 30% and, according to a study published by the American Diabetes Association, is linked to the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Even if you’re worried about calories, you may not want to opt for a diet soda as a mixer in your favorite cocktail. A diet soda mixed with any sort of spirit is likely to get you drunker than the liquor would when combined with a different mixer. Studies show that alcoholic drinks mixed with diet soda results in higher blood alcohol concentrations. The sugar used in regular sweet drinks, like soda, slows down the absorption of alcohol in the bloodstream. The artificial sweeteners used in diet soda don’t have this effect.
Increased consumption of diet soda can interfere with your sense of taste, according to an fMRI study conducted by researchers at San Diego University. Twenty-four diet soda and non-diet soda drinkers were given intermittent sips of sugar water and artificially sweetened water and asked to rank the drink’s enjoyability. The brain’s reaction to both drinks among diet soda drinkers was nearly identical, meaning their brain’s reward system was incapable of differentiating between sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Diet soda drinkers may be more likely to experience high blood pressure compared to those who avoid the beverage, according to a study out of Brazil. Adolescents from 20 public schools were examined to investigate the correlation between diet soda consumption and high blood pressure. Researchers were able to conclude that adolescents who drank diet soda had a higher blood pressure than those who drank non-diet soft drinks or no soda at all. So, even if you enjoy the foods and drinks that help lower blood pressure, like bananas and pistachios, your best bet is to avoid diet soda at all costs.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, diet soda could be bad news for your kidneys. One study determined that women who drank several diet sodas a day showed a significant decline in kidney function.
It’s not in your head — there’s a biological addictive response to drinking diet soda. Dopamine and glutamate, two neurotransmitters in the brain’s reward center, are released after you take a sip of the caffeine and aspartame that are in the drink. To put it simply, the chemicals in diet soda convince your brain to crave it over and over to feel the same sense of joy you did when you had it previously.
Just because it’s calorie free doesn’t mean it’s an effective weight-loss tool. A study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that diet soda drinkers age 65 and older gained triple the abdominal fat compared to their peers who didn’t consume the drink.
A study published in JAMA Pediatrics examined more than 3,000 pregnant women and their infant children one year after birth. Mothers who drank diet soda were two times more likely to have obese and overweight children.
According to a case study published in the journal General Dentistry, the mouth of one habitual diet soda consumer was just as eroded as the mouths of a methamphetamine user. The highly acidic nature of diet soda erodes the teeth and wears away at tooth enamel when dental hygiene isn’t a priority. Soda is just one of the many foods and drinks dentists won’t touch.
According to a study from Boston University, diet soda drinkers are up to three times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s or dementia than people who don’t drink it. Leave your diet soda days behind and stock up on dark chocolate, garlic and other foods that can protect your brain from Alzheimer’s.
In the same study from Boston University, research also suggested that people who drank at least one diet soda per day were three times as likely to develop stroke. Neurologists recommend these foods for brain health.
A study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that consumers who favored artificially sweetened drinks — like diet soda — were 26% more likely to die prematurely compared to others who seldom drank sugar-free beverages.
A can of diet soda contains phosphoric acid, an FDA-approved colorless liquid that is used in most sodas (both diet and regular) to prevent the growth of mold. The chemical is fine to drink in moderation, but if you’re guzzling can after can, it can have big implications. Phosphoric acid can disrupt the nutrient absorption process in your body. In excess, this can prevent skin and muscles from getting the nutrients they need. This can speed up the aging process, giving you more wrinkles and a weaker frame. Swap out the diet soda for avocados, berries and other foods for healthy, glowing skin.
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