In our calorie-counting culture, that diet soda seems like a win-win: you get your sugary fix without the 140-plus caloric impact of a regular can of soda—made possible by the “magic” of artificial sweetener. However, more and more studies are showing that those diet drinks may be having the opposite effect on our waistlines—and our health. Here are five reasons why swapping out your diet soda for water or another unsweetened beverage, like seltzer or tea, is your healthiest option:
It can increase insulin production. The pancreas secretes insulin, the hormone in charge of telling your body how to process sugar—whether it’s to be used for energy or stored as fat. Emerging research suggests that the artificial sweeteners in diet sodas trick the body into believing sugar is incoming and therefore, it produces the necessary insulin. When that anticipated sugar doesn’t arrive, it may disrupt your body’s metabolic processes as a result. This may be a possible link to regular diet soda consumption and metabolic syndrome, a pre-diabetic condition marked by a large waist circumference and high blood pressure and blood glucose levels.
It can trick you into overeating. Although that can of soda uses artificial sugar, your body may still respond as it would to the real thing. When the “sweet” receptors in your brain are triggered, they too, expect the arrival of calories that never show. When this promised burst of energy does not come, your body may try to make up for them, triggering your hunger to help make up for the perceived deficit.
It fuels your sugar addiction. Though you may think that artificial sugar is keeping your addiction to “real” sugar at bay, it may be feeding the dragon. While you may not actually taste the difference, artificial sweeteners are actually over 200 times sweeter than the real stuff. Over time, your taste buds become “immune” to that level of sweetness, making you crave more and more sugar to get your fix.
It could negatively impact your brain health. There is evidence that diet soda could lead to an increased risk in both all-cause dementia, Alzheimer’s-related dementia, and stroke. While there are a multitude of factors that can increase one’s risk of these diseases, a recent study showed that out of 4,000 participants, those who drank diet soda on a daily basis were three times as likely to develop both stroke and dementia in the next ten years than those who did not.
It may alter your gut’s delicate microbiome. Another recent study has shown that artificial sweeteners ingested by mice negatively affected their gut bacteria—specifically the intestinal bacteria in charge of metabolism. The study found that artificial sweeteners enhanced this bacteria’s ability to pull energy from food and store it as fat, thereby increasing weight gain, which would subsequently lead to obesity and its related problems.
While more research is being conducted to conclusively determine the link between weight gain and other health issues related to the consumption of diet soda, one thing is for certain: when it comes to your food and beverage choices, the cleaner, the better. At the end of the day, water will always be healthier than sugary beverages, whether artificially sweetened or not.