Veggie chips, granola bars, fat-free frozen yogurt — we know plenty of so-called healthy snacks are basically junk food in disguise. But diet soda, in all its fizzy glory, seems like it should be a real-deal “free” food. After all, how can you go wrong with zero calories?
“When you drink diet soda, you’re not taking in any calories — but you’re not swallowing anything that does your body any good, either,” explains Ashvini Mashru, R.D. and owner of Wellness Nutrition Concepts, LLC. Not only can diet soda sabotage your weight-loss efforts, it may also set you up for health risks down the road.
Seven Things Diet Soda Does to Your Body:
1. Diet soda supercharges your sweet tooth
Artificial sweeteners in diet sodas like aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose may actually change the way your brain processes sweet flavors — and researchers believe that can make those cravings stronger. “Diet sodas actually taste far sweeter than regular soft drinks,” Mashru says. “When we eat something sweet, our brain responds with signals to eat more. Artificial sweeteners provide an intensely sweet taste without any calories, which can actually cause you to crave more sweet foods.”
2. It also messes with your actual teeth
Chances are, your dentist wouldn’t approve of your diet soda habit. They may be sugar-free, but their high acidity can still lead to tooth erosion. In fact, according to a case study published in General Dentistry, the tooth erosion caused by frequent diet soda consumption was comparable to the erosion caused by a crack cocaine or methamphetamine addiction.
3. Your eating habits take a hit
Ever ordered a cheeseburger, fries, and a diet soda and thought, I’m saving so many calories! Guess what? You’re not. According to a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, people who drink diet drinks are more likely to overdo it on junk food. “It has a ‘health halo’ effect,” Mashru says. “You view choosing a diet drink as virtuous — all those calories saved! — so it feels like you can afford to reward that virtue with a hot fudge sundae or a burger.”
4. Your weight may creep up
“Zero calories don’t have zero impact when it comes to weight,” Mashru cautions. Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio speculate that artificial sweeteners could be “fueling — rather than fighting — our escalating obesity epidemic” after finding that a three-a-day diet soda habit is associated with an almost-doubled risk of being overweight or obese.
5. You may need to loosen your belt
It’s counterintuitive, but diet drinks may actually cause your waistline to expand. A study found that the waist circumference of daily diet soda drinkers increased by an average of 1.83 inches — more than double the increase of those who didn’t drink diet soda.
6. You’ll get tipsy faster
It may seem like the perfect drink mixer when you’re watching your calories, but it may affect how your body breaks down alcohol. A 2013 study found that participants who mixed alcohol with diet soda had a higher breath alcohol concentration than those who mixed it with regular soda.
7. You may increase your risk of type 2 diabetes
Diet might seem like a better substitute for a regular soda, but a 2009 study suggests that people who drink diet soda every day had a 67 percent greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. So it should still be treated as a cheat meal and consumed in moderation.
If you can’t imagine swearing off diet soda, just make it an occasional treat and don’t let it derail your eating habits. “A diet drink now and then won’t make you fat,” Mashru says, “as long as you’re not using it to wash down a fried calorie bomb from the drive-thru.”