This Is What Happens to Your Body When You Drink Diet Soda

Drinking diet soda can save major calories. But there are some surprising things that can happen to your body if you opt for this type of pop.

Diet soda is a go-to for people who love the taste of regular soda but can do without the sugar and calories. An average can of regular cola may contain a whopping 37 grams of sugar, and consuming too much sugar is linked to outcomes like obesity and poor heart health. So it makes sense that you may seek out a sugar-free alternative.

But while drinking diet soda does help people reduce their sugar intake, this simple act can also expose a person to other ingredients that may be linked to some health problems.

If you are a diet soda drinker and want to know what effects this habit can have on your body, read on to learn all of the details.

diet soda on designed background
Getty Images / Surasak Pumdontri / EyeEm

What Is Diet Soda?

Diet soda, also known as diet pop or a zero sugar soft drink, is a drink made with most of the same ingredients that you will find in regular soda. But, instead of leaning on sugar, corn syrup or another caloric sweetener for a sweet taste, diet soda takes advantage of alternative low- or no-calorie sugar substitutes, such as aspartame, sucralose and stevia.

Like regular soda, these drinks can contain artificial coloring (e.g., caramel coloring), artificial flavors, added acidic ingredients and preservatives. Certain diet soda variations may also contain caffeine. And, like regular sodas, diet soft drinks are essentially void of anything of nutritional value.

What Happens to Your Body When You Drink Diet Soda?

Every food or drink you include in your diet can affect your health. From orange juice consumption being linked to immune support to a cup of tea being linked to reduced inflammation, your dietary choices can profoundly impact your overall health.

And while you might lean on diet soda for that distinct sweet effervescence without worrying about loading up with sugar, doing so may have other effects on your health that you may not realize. Here are six other effects (positive and negative) that can happen when you sip diet sodas on the regular.

1. You may experience tooth erosion or discoloration

We've all been told that eating too much sugar can wreak havoc on dental health, as excessive amounts of sugar are linked to an increased risk of dental cavities. While it is true that skipping sugary soda can help you keep cavity development at bay, reaching for a can of diet soda can open your chompers up to other issues.

"The acidity in certain types of diet soda can lead to tooth erosion," according to Keith Wolfe, D.M.D., a dentist based in Greenacres, Florida. He explained that, over time, tooth erosion can result in pain and sensitivity.

In addition to bathing your mouth in an acidic environment, some varieties of diet soda contain coloring that may stain teeth. "Over time, drinking excessive amounts of diet soda made with caramel coloring may result in teeth turning yellow," explained Jack Hirschfeld, D.D.S., a clinical instructor at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine's School of Dental Medicine. "The combination of the acidic environment the soda creates along with the food dye can increase a person's chances of experiencing tooth discoloration," he added.

2. You may lose weight

The average American consumes at least one sugary drink every day. For many people the simple act of switching from a calorie-containing sweetened beverage to a calorie-free one will create a calorie deficit that may help them lose weight. Replacing one can of regular soda with a diet version each day can save a person approximately 150 calories per day.

According to data published in JAMA Network Open, swapping out sugar-sweetened beverages for drinks made with sugar alternatives, such as diet soda, is associated with reduced body weight, body mass index (BMI), percentage of body fat and liver fat levels, specifically among people with overweight or obesity and those who are at risk for developing diabetes.

Other data showed that, among people who are overweight or have obesity, drinking 24 ounces of diet soda every day for one year resulted in an average weight loss of almost 14 pounds. That was compared to another group who drank the same amount of water every day for a year and only experienced an average of 5.5 pounds of weight loss.

Yet, some observational data does not show a positive link between drinking diet soda and weight loss, and some research suggests that artificially sweetened drinks are associated with a greater risk of obesity. More studies are needed before we can have a definitive recommendation.

3. You may have increased risk for heart disease

Whether regular or diet, research suggests that making soda sipping a habit is associated with an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes (a condition that increases your risk of heart disease as well) and death from any cause, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis in the journal Nutrients. It's possible that the sweet taste but zero calories from the drink degrades insulin function over time, perhaps contributing to poor metabolic health. Though the authors say that more high-quality evidence is needed on diet drinks to reach firm conclusions, they advise limiting both sugar-sweetened and diet versions for your best health.

4. You may be better able to manage your blood sugar

The artificial sweeteners in diet soda do not raise blood glucose levels in the short term, like sugar does. So if you drink a can of diet soda, you shouldn't experience a blood sugar spike like you might if you drank the same amount of regular soda. What's more, if switching to diet soda helps you lose weight, achieving a healthier weight can also help you improve blood sugar control.

Some research suggests that people who drink sugary drinks are more likely to develop insulin resistance and prediabetes, but people who consumed diet soda are not. Ultimately, if you have diabetes or prediabetes, talk to your health care team, particularly a registered dietitian who specializes in diabetes care, about the best way for you to manage your blood sugar.

5. You may have trouble sleeping

If you opt for diet soda that contains caffeine, you may have trouble getting some much-needed shut-eye at night, especially if you are enjoying it close to bedtime.

One can of Diet Coke contains 46 milligrams of caffeine. That's less than a cup of coffee, but everyone has a different sensitivity to caffeine, and if you are having trouble sleeping at night, you may want to evaluate how much caffeine you're consuming during the day and at what times. The good news is that there are some caffeine-free diet soda options that you can sip on without experiencing this effect.

6. You may have weaker bones

While diet soda is void of calories and sugar, certain varieties can contain phosphorus in the form of phosphoric acid. This mineral can play a positive role in bone health, assuming that another key bone-health supporting nutrient, calcium, is consumed in adequate amounts. But, consuming copious amounts of phosphorus (which can happen if you overdo it on the soda) can negatively affect the calcium/phosphorus ratio in your body, ultimately increasing the risk of experiencing decreased bone mineral density. Opting for caffeinated sodas may worsen your bone health even further, thanks to this stimulant's negative effect on bone health.

If you are concerned about your phosphoric acid intake, choose clear diet soda instead of classic colas, as clear versions are not typically made with this mineral compound.

Bottom Line

For many years, diet soda has been a go-to beverage solution for sweet and bubbly drink lovers. And while there aren't many drinks that can satisfy like an ice-cold glass of diet pop can on a warm summer day, it is important to know that overdoing your diet soda consumption doesn't come without potential risk.

While this drink can be a nice once-in-a-while solution for people who have a sweet drink craving and want to do without the added sugars, consuming liberal amounts of this sweet drink may lead to some unwanted health effects in the long run. Balancing out your diet soda consumption with good old-fashioned water and more nutrient-dense drinks like 100% juice and milk will help you meet your nutritional needs while adding enjoyment, too.

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