The first and obvious thing to do when you’re trying to lose weight is to change what you eat. When you change your diet, this means replacing cheeseburgers with salads and other healthier choices. But for the sweet tooths among us, replacing sugar can be the most challenging healthy choice of all.
“But what about diet sodas?” many ask.
Many sweet tooths find comfort in soda drinks, so it can be hard to let them go. And that’s why people who are trying to lose weight will opt to drink a diet soda instead of a regular one.
So now we ask the age-old question: Are diet sodas good or bad? And whether they are or aren’t, do they help or prevent fat loss at all?
But before we get into that, let’s talk about diet sodas first.
What is a Diet Soda?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 20 years, then you’ll be familiar with what a can of diet soda is. But do you really know what makes up these diet drinks?
Diet soda is a concoction of carbonated water, artificial or natural sweeteners, and other food additives. Unlike a regular can of soda where they mix sugar to sweeten it, artificial sugars such as aspartame and sucralose sweeten them.
Armed with these ingredients, diet soda companies claim that their drinks have zero calories. These drinks are marketed as the perfect alternative for anyone cutting out sugar. It’s no wonder people are flocking to diet soda even though it sounds too good to be true.
First introduced in the 1950s, diet sodas have come a long way since their debut. At first, diet sodas were marketed at people with diabetes. But soon, their consumer base grew to people trying to lose weight or lessen their sugar intake. These drinks have grown in popularity ever since and are sold all over the world.
Now, almost every cola company has a diet version of their drinks: Diet Coke, Sprite Zero, Pepsi Max, etc.
But the question still begs, “Are diet sodas good or bad, and can they help weight loss, or do they prevent it?”
There’s a mixed bag of studies out there. We will take you through each claim so that, by the end of this article, you can make a fair judgment.
Claim: Diet Sodas Prevent Fat Loss
However, drinking diet soda can also make you gain weight.
One regular can of soda can have up to more than 150 calories, while diet sodas have zero calories. It only seems logical to pick the diet soda rather than the regular soda when it comes to drinking choices, right? People drink the diet version in hopes of losing weight or at least maintaining a healthy weight.
But that’s not true. Studies have shown that drinking diet soda heightens your risk of weight gain. And not only that, consumption of diet sodas is linked to other health concerns as well.
First off, diet sodas are not nutritious.
While recipes may differ depending on the brand, a can of diet soda usually includes carbonated water, sweeteners, acids, artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. Out of all the ingredients, the sweetener is the most dangerous of them all. These usually include aspartame, sucralose, or Stevia, which can be a hundred times sweeter than regular sugar.
Most diet sodas also include caffeine and preservatives, which hardly contribute any nutrition to the body. So yes, while it’s true that diet sodas won’t add to your calorie intake, it’s also not a healthy choice of drink.
Second, drinking diet sodas confuses our bodies.
Our pancreas is the sugar storage unit of our body, and it secretes insulin that deals with the sugar entering our system. Insulin tells our body’s cells whether to use the sugar as food or to keep it as fat. Without insulin, our body won’t be able to process the sugar that enters our bloodstream.
When we taste artificial sweeteners, our brain automatically sends a signal to our pancreas to start working. When the insulin lands in our bloodstream with no sugar, it quickly confuses our metabolic process. This confusion is said to be one of the links between metabolic syndrome and diet soda consumption.
Metabolic syndrome involves a lot of symptoms, including dangerously high levels of blood pressure, cholesterol, and increasing waist size.
Aspartame, an artificial sugar commonly used in the production of diet sodas, contributes to metabolic syndrome too. Studies show that Aspartame can hinder a critical gut enzyme responsible for breaking down fat in our digestive system.
Dr. Richard Hodin from Harvard Medical School performed three experiments in total to test this. The third and final experiment that he conducted was the most promising. It involved observing four groups of male mice for 18 weeks.
All of the mice were allowed to eat as much food as they wanted, but two groups had a regular diet, while the other two groups had a high-fat diet. From each division, one of the two groups of regular-diet mice drank water, and the other group drank aspartame-filled water.
Surprisingly, the aspartame-filled water didn’t make a difference for mice that had a regular diet. However, they did discover that the mice with the high-fat diet that also took the aspartame-filled water gained the most weight.
While skeptics argue that human bodies will react differently, the study’s findings are hard to ignore. Also, this study shows that that drinking diet soda may affect our gut enzymes.
Third, diet sodas tend to make us crave sugar more.
If you have a sweet tooth, you will probably find that your sugary treats become less and less sweet the more you eat. However, if you were to stop eating sugar for a while and then start again, the same food will likely taste more sugary than you remembered.
The same principle applies to diet sodas. If you drink it often enough, you will be immune to its taste, when in truth, diet soda is a whole lot sweeter than regular soda. Due to its sweetness, it will confuse your brain into thinking you have an enormous amount of sugar in your body, therefore disrupting your metabolic processes. This confusion can also increase your cravings for sweet food.
Third, drinking diet sodas may let us feel entitled to eat more than we need.
You probably know a few people who are prone to ordering high-fatty foods, such as cheeseburgers and fries. But they falsely believe that, to counteract their fatty calories, they must drink a diet soda.
Drinking diet soda may give us the false illusion that we can eat more than we could when drinking a regular soda. But just because we’re sipping a beverage with zero calories doesn’t mean we get a free pass to eat whatever we want.
Plus, the artificial sweetener has already tricked our bodies into expecting sugar in our bloodstream when there’s none and has probably interrupted our metabolic process. Our bodies now react differently and may store the artificial sweetener as fat rather than burn it as energy. This mix-up can also lead to stronger cravings and more consumption of food.
If that’s not bad enough, research has shown that drinking diet soda can also contribute to the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers used data from the Framingham Heart Study to test their theory. They looked at 4,000 Framingham participants and concluded that those who drank more than three sodas (regular or diet) per week had adverse effects on their bodies.
Shockingly, these effects attacked the brain the most. Among the participants, there were multiple symptoms of accelerated brain aging, smaller brain volume, poor episodic memory, and a shrunken hippocampus. Unfortunately, these are all risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, as well as stroke and dementia.
The bottom line is that, while diet soda in itself doesn’t contribute to weight gain, the bad eating habits surrounding our diet soda consumption will.
When we add in the fact that diet sodas are unhealthy and add zero-nutritional value, you must ask yourself if it is worth putting yourself at risk of a stroke. If not, then maybe these beverages don’t deserve a place in our daily intake.
Claim: Diet Sodas Do Not Prevent Fat Loss
To counter the theories above, many researchers argue that the consumption of diet sodas and diet drinks have no direct relation whatsoever to weight loss.
According to obesity researcher Barry Popkin, Ph.D., “the science isn’t there to back it up.” Popkin also disagrees with the Framingham study. The study included an analysis of 9,000 middle-aged men and women for four years. He argues that, because the reviews were observational, it’s almost impossible to tell if diet soda had a direct role in their weight gain.
He also floats the possibility of the participants switching diets while drinking diet sodas, which could be the real reason for their weight gain. Popkin calls this the “Big Mac and Diet Coke” Mentality. These are people who opt for unhealthy choices of food and compensate a diet soda for it.
Popkin cites his research as well, showing that people who incorporate diet sodas into their calorie-restricted diet have a higher chance of losing weight.
Maureen Storey, Ph.D., who is the senior vice president of science policy for the American Beverage Association, agrees with Popkin. According to Storey, the current body of available science shows that low-calorie sweeteners can help reduce calories and aid in maintaining a healthy weight.
Scott Baptie also shares this sentiment. He’s a sports nutritionist and weight-loss coach who has worked with numerous athletes over the years. He often tells his clients that consuming diet drinks may aid in slimming down. He shares this philosophy by urging that artificial sweeteners can cut down your sugar cravings.
When asked about the findings of research that counteracts his statements, Baptie recommends taking the results with a pinch of salt. He further argues that these studies used mice and flies, so we wouldn’t know the exact effect it has on humans. The reviews are also observational, so it doesn’t show a definite cause and effect.
In layman’s terms, this side combats the other by stating that these studies show no direct relationship between artificial sweeteners and weight loss. The subjects of these experiments have no correlation to the human body.
As we mentioned before, the scientific community is very divided when it comes to diet sodas and weight gain. If there’s one thing we can be sure of it’s that these drinks have no nutritional value. If you happen to plan on losing weight and have intense sweet cravings, we highly suggest ditching the diet soda altogether.
We say this not because we agree that these drinks prevent fat loss, but rather diet sodas have no contribution whatsoever to your diet. However, if you do choose to include diet drinks in your consumption, there’s no judgment here either. As long as you complete the set of nutrients that your body needs, a can of diet soda won’t hurt now and then.
“But what if I have sweet cravings, yet I want to stop drinking soda?” one might ask again.
We can offer a few solutions. Battling sugar cravings is hard and can be a test to your willpower. But following these suggestions will help you to win through.
How To Battle Sugar Cravings
We have to remember that everybody is different. What may work for someone might not work for another person. But if you’re asking for our ideas, we highly suggest that the prevention of a sugar craving is better than trying to cure it.
Here are some tips on how you can do it:
Drink one glass of water a day.
People often say that dehydration is one of the leading causes of a sugar craving. If you’re feeling your sweet tooth, we recommend drinking at least one glass of water to keep it down. You can also keep a lidded cup near your nightstand in case you wake up in the middle of the night with a craving for something sweet.
Have a fulfilling dinner.
Another way to avoid a sugar craving is to eat a filling dinner. It’s not enough that you eat healthily; you must also eat something that makes you feel happy and pleasant. If you have a satisfying meal, this will significantly lessen your urge to reach for the sweets later.
Eat one piece of fruit.
One alternative to sugar cravings is having a piece of fruit nearby to snack on. It can be bananas, apples, oranges, or whatever you love. Please bear in mind, though, that it’s equally important to track your natural sugar levels, so don’t overeat the oranges.
Consume more protein.
Protein makes you feel full, and it may also help with downing sugar cravings. If you’re experiencing a sweet tooth, ask yourself if you’ve consumed enough protein for the day. If not, take a step back and try to add more lean meat to your diet.
Have a consistent sleep cycle.
A consistent sleep cycle is essential when it comes to preventing sugar cravings or any cravings at all. Why? Because when you’re asleep during your cravings’ peak hours, you won’t be awake to snack! We recommend getting at least eight hours of sleep every day.
Avoid certain triggers.
Reflecting on your habits is also an excellent way to fight back cravings. If you’re used to staying up at night and overeating, this may be the time to cut that down finally. You can also stop yourself from specific triggers, such as not walking past a fast food place on the way home or turning down an invite to the bar every once in a while.
It’s also possible that you are craving sweet stuff because you lack vitamins and minerals. To combat this, you may take multivitamins that are recommended by your doctor. Not only does this help you have a healthy body system, but you also stop your cravings from creeping back in.
The Verdict on Diet Soda
So, does diet soda prevent fat loss or not?
The answer is yes and no.
Yes, diet soda may prevent fat loss but not in the way you think and not directly. Studies have shown that the sweeteners in diet sodas can confuse our metabolism. Plus, it could be that diet soda consumers gain weight because of the unhealthy diet that they pair it with.
Remember, it doesn’t matter if you’re drinking a zero-calorie drink or no drink at all. If you’re eating three cheeseburgers per meal, you won’t be able to lose those extra pounds.
However, many scientists and weight-loss coaches support that they have no significant effect on weight, and some even encourage their clients to consume it. Their final advice is to pair it with a low-calorie diet so you won’t mind taking a fizzy sip now and then.
As you can see, nutrition experts are ultimately undecided about whether diet sodas are good or bad for the body. But now that we have laid out the points for each side, the decision is up to you. Only you can decide what’s best for your body or not.
Just remember that, as long as you eat healthily and within the recommended amount of calories that your body needs, you won’t have to worry about drinking a can of diet soda. Anything you eat, take in moderation!