Wednesday, 18 November 2020

Diet Soda is Bad for You: Health Impacts Beyond Weight Gain

Image by Ginger Vieira

        Fitness is more than just calorie counting. If so, advising on nutrition tips won’t be rewarding as it deemed to be. Our health depends on our food choices, entirely. As sugar is widely associated with fat gain, surely you would think diet soda is a solution because the label says ‘zero calories’. It sounds idealistic that we can experience the same great taste without feeling any guilt.

The Blind Side We’re Seeing

Manufacturers spend a fortune for the publicity of diet soft drinks emphasizing the optimism that they are the healthier choice to sugar sweetened drinks because they have no calories. Well, news flash! They aren’t.

Image Credit: Shutterstock / pedrosala

But we can’t blame them, they’re businesses after all. Apparently, they appear to disturb the body's ability to count calories and, consequently, making your perfectly planned meal be the cause of weight gain.

Diet Soda Vs Regular Soda

Diet sodas use artificial sweeteners in their formulas. It’s immensely popular in people with diabetes as they pose little effect on blood glucose levels. It pays to check the carbohydrate amount in the labels if you’re uncertain or just trying a new fizzy drink.

Why is Diet Soda Dubbed ‘for Diabetes’

Because diabetics can’t produce sufficient insulin to break down sugar, glucose might deposit and accumulate in the blood and begin to damage their organs particularly the kidneys and eyes.

Image Credit: / icafreitas

When artificial sweeteners are invented, diabetics rejoiced. Finally, they can enjoy sweet-tasting foods without blood sugar spikes. They lived to tell the tale, quite literally.

The brain, gut flora, and pancreas process artificial and real sugars differently. This makes it harder for the body to digest the real sugars it needs to function well.

How Taste Sense Receptors Welcome Empty Calories

Artificial sweeteners stimulate a broader area of taste buds (including bitter sensory sites) than does sugar. To offset this, the base formula must be altered, thereby, lessening this effect. For example, saccharine has a bitter taste. It must be revamped to mask the bitterness.

It is known that sweet foods bind to sensors in our mouth. These sweet-taste receptors relay message to the brain indicating you’re eating sweets. Recent discoveries found these sensors exist in other body parts (e.g., in bladderlungs and bones). Evidently, the effects of artificial sweeteners would be even more troublesome since it affects many of our organs.

 Dysregulation of Metabolic Pathways

Eating something sweet signals the brain and stomach for digestion of incoming calories. When the expected calories intake doesn’t come, like in artificial sweeteners, the metabolic responses won’t be triggered as much. There will be no insulin to counter glucose; no hormones for fullness and satisfaction; and no reward (dopamine) for the brain from the sweetness encountered. This means fat burning capability is impaired and you’ll feel hungry most of the time, resulting in overeating (and choosing foods sweeter than what you perceive as ‘sweetest.’)

People who routinely use artificial sweeteners may start to find less intensely sweet foods, such as fruit, less appealing and unsweet foods, such as vegetables, downright unpalatable.

“After a while it's like the mouth keeps crying wolf, and the brain and gut stop listening. As a result, when real sugar and real calories come along, the body doesn't respond to them as strongly as it normally might. Calories don't end up making you feel as full as they should. They aren't as rewarding. So you don't get the signals that might stop you from eating when you should,” said Susan Swithers, professor of behavioral neuroscience at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.

It's much like Pavlov’s operant conditioning.

Image Credit: Verywell / Joshua Seong

Interestingly, sweetness has the highest taste recognition threshold (harder to stimulate and satisfy) while bitterness has the lowest detection threshold (easier to stimulate and satisfy).

Drinking diet drinks daily was linked with 36% higher risk for metabolic syndrome. We must recognize that it is not sure that artificial sweeteners will not increase the burden of metabolic diseases.

Artificially Sweetened Drinks Ruin Your Pancreas and Gut Bacteria

Frequent eating of sweets improves the brain’s tolerance and craving for sweetness. Therefore, you will want to eat more sweets for your brain to recognize sweetness and calories (energy).

Diet sodas rework the body’s ability to process real sugar, through changes in the gut bacteria and insulin levels.

Sugar transfers from digestive track into the bloodstream, increasing our blood sugar levels. The pancreas secretes hormones, one of them is insulin, into the blood to control your blood sugar levels. It’s like a factory that transforms sugars into anything the body can use, and the factory decelerates upon receiving the empty calories from artificial sweetener.

Addiction to diet sodas may then lead to abnormal pancreas functioning and insulin levels, together with disruption of your metabolism, putting you at risk for diseases like Type 2 diabetes.

Artificial sweeteners induce changes to the microbiome (flora), the collection of microbes and their genetic material that live within our bodies, majority in the intestines.

Image by That Sugar Movement

More than 100 trillion bacteria living in your digestive system, supporting metabolic control. They are masterminds in processing sugar and carbs, determining the calorie count to be absorbed from foods, and regulating hunger and appetite. Also, they play a crucial role in monitoring the chemicals that affect our mood from time to time (neurotransmitters).

The gut flora’s ability to break down real sugars downgrades upon frequent interacting with artificial sweeteners, which release toxic substances. Why should you care? This reduces the amount of nutrients that are absorbed from food we eat. You might not get the essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals, even when you do eat healthy foods in the right amounts.

Addictive Tendencies

Do you think you can leave and break your relationship with diet drinks that easily? You can’t count it, sweetie. Animal studies suggest that artificial sweeteners may be addictive.

Artificial sweeteners are typically 200 to 600 times sweeter than sugar. And both of them are addictive. So you might argue, Are artificial sweeteners far more addictive than sugars?

Diet Sodas Make You Gain Weight

There was an observed trend that people having less healthy diet have a higher tendency to drink diet sodas. Does this mean unhealthy habits lead to unhealthier food choices? The problem is more psychological, isn’t it?

Belly fat gain was most noticeable in people who were already overweight. "People who are already at cardiometabolic risk because they have higher BMIs are really in double or triple jeopardy," says Dr. Helen Hazuda, professor of medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. 

Apparently, more artificial sweetener you consume, the more fat will be accumulated in your system.

Cells that constitute our fat stores have glucose transporters (protein helping glucose get inside cells, like their mouth) called GLUT4 embedded on their surface. They are present in your skeletal muscles, adipocytes and heart. Munching on sugar means you’re stuffing these cells more glucose resulting in accumulated fat that becomes larger and takes more space.

Image by Zhabska T.

For instance, the artificial sweetener sucralose, which is commonly found in diet drinks, mobilizes more GLUT4 biomolecules into the surface that are made available to promote the creation and storage of fat. 

A study found that diet soda intake is directly related to abdominal obesity in adults over age 65. The increase in waist circumference among diet soda drinkers was three times the amount that it was in non-drinkers.

Any Diet Soda Substitutes for Weight Loss?

Natural sweeteners, which are based on fruit extracts, are getting popular in the market. Examples of these are stevia and monk fruit. They have more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants than non-nutritive sweeteners.

However, it’s too early to say whether they provide safer option than artificial sweeteners or whether they, too, encourage obesity. Reportedly, even natural sweeteners can lead to health problems including tooth decay, weight gain, poor nutrition and increased triglycerides.

Unhealthy Habits Lead to Unhealthier Habits

Loyalists to artificial sweeteners may get lost calories from other sources, says Dr. David Ludwig, a specialist on weight loss and obesity at Boston Children’s Hospital. Often, we say silly statements like “I’m drinking diet soda, so it’s okay to have cake.”

Credit to Pinclipart

Aside from lowering blood sugar, insulin reduces appetite. Because artificial sweeteners impair insulin production, your appetite is increased. You might shake your head to satisfying and adequately nutritious foods while you nod on foods as sweet but of little nutritional value.

Which Foods Have Artificial Sweeteners?

Artificial sweeteners are also ingredients in certain processed foods, including:

·         Powdered drink mixes

·         Coffee mixes or when in cans

·         Baked goods

·         Candy and gum

·         Puddings

·         Canned foods

·         Jams and jellies, gelatins

·         Dairy products

·         Sports and energy drinks

·         Ketchup

·         Salad dressing

Diet Soda and Diabetes (Type 2)

Subjects in the San Antonio Heart Study who drank more than 21 diet drinks per week were twice as likely to become overweight or obese as people who didn’t drink diet soda.

Good things often come with heavy price. Daily treats of diet drinks are linked to 67% increased risk for type 2 diabetes. Aren’t cardiovascular diseases the reason why you’re counting calories?

A French study proved this risk may even be higher to diet soda fans than to people drinking the sugary versions.

It is not yet clear whether diet soft drinks were the root cause of type 2 diabetes.

Diet Soda and Cardiovascular Disease

One recent study of American College of Cardiology concluded that regular consumption of sugary drinks and artificially sweetened drinks (typically once a day) are linked to high risk of first incident cardiovascular disease (defined as stroke, transient ischemic attack, myocardial infarction, acute coronary syndrome and angioplasty).

Diet Soda: Effects on Brain

Diet sodas are among the worst enemies of your mind. It turns out drinking diet soda regularly nearly triples your risk of developing stroke or dementia (compared to drinking less than one per week). This is intelligence from a study from Boston University School of Medicine. Something noteworthy is that the researchers conducted a parallel study and found that your sugary soft drinks are not as high to stroke or dementia, but you won’t be spared from fat accumulation.

Image by American Heart Association News

“… smaller brain volumes,... poorer memory function and... smaller hippocampus, which is an area of the brain important for memory consolidation,” said Matthew Pase, lead researcher.

Pase’s first study on the subject concluded drinking one diet soda a day shrinks your brain volume. Evidences of poorer episodic memory and shrunken hippocampus are also found. These three are risk factors for early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.

          “There clearly is a relationship between your heart health and your brain health,” said Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs for the Alzheimer's Association.

The nasty culprits also mess up brain activity. Reportedly, sucralose, compared to regular sugar, decreases activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain involved with taste perception and the eating experience.

Another study revealed that long-term and too much indulgence can lower activity in the brain's "caudate head," a communication region of the reward pathway and is vital for producing the feeling of satisfaction. This tempts you to compensate for the lack of pleasure by seeking other foods (most likely unhealthy).

Researchers tracked the trend but was unable to prove that drinking artificial drinks was the root cause of the diseases.

Other Conditions Linked to Diet Soda

There are also other effects brought by zero calorie drinks that are bad for you:

  1. Accelerated aging
  2. Depression 
  3. Kidney damage 
  4. Increased risk of heart attack

Ways to Cut from Addiction

Here are some strategies to vanquish your attachment to sugars and anything sweet from Ted Kallmyer, an ISSA Certified Specialist in Fitness Nutrition, Certified Fitness Trainer, and Healthy Eater’s author. I can’t promise you it will be easy but we need immediate action.

1.                Before drinking that glass of soda, drink a glass of water.

2.                Track consumption, and reduce little by little.

3.                Go from 12 oz cans to the 7.5 oz cans.

4.                Chilled water dispenser, ice, and a dash of lemon.

Effects of Cutting Soda Out

It’s been three years since Tiana Attride, a beauty and style story producing intern at INSIDER, decided to cut soda out of her life completely. Here are her remarks:

1. “I lost weight.”

2. “I saw a major improvement in my skin.”

3. “My teeth looked incredible.”

4. “I craved it less and less.”

5. “I found delicious alternatives to soda.”

Healthy Alternatives to Your Fizzy Drink

Returning to your regular sugary sodas is definitely not an option. These are few alternatives that does the same magic, but with less cravings this time:

1.    Sparkling Water

If there’s one drink you can think of next to diet soda, this is it.

2.    Naturally Flavored water

Just put slices of your preferred fruits, veggies, and herbs to your pitcher of ice cold water for a refreshing and flavorful drink. You may also put chopped fruit in an ice cube tray, add water, and freeze.

3.    Flavored Sparkling Water

Cravings will follow you however far you run from diet sodas. Satisfy them without feeling guilty afterward. Gradual separation from sweets should work.

4.    Sparkling Water Infusions

Use fresh fruits, herbs, and even veggies to sweeten and add a few vitamins to your drink. Be the bartender and and create your own concoction.

5.    Freshly Squeezed Lemonade

A summer favorite, its citrusy and refreshing flavor may be what your tongue needs to forget the sweetness of diet sodas and reset your sweetness threshold.

6.    Kombucha

This energizing probiotic contains little to no sugar and helps improve gastric motility.

7.    Coconut Water

Swig potassium carbohydrates for muscle recovery.

8.    Red Wine in Moderation

Enjoy benefits like improved heart health and decreased risk of certain types of cancer. It contains many antioxidants that’s helpful in warding off Alzheimer’s Disease.

The National Institutes of Health suggests women to limit alcohol consumption to one drink (4 ounces of wine) per day and men to two drinks per day.

9.    Coffee

“Unsweetened coffee, either black or with a small amount of nonfat or low-fat milk, would be the healthiest option,” says Kennedy, RD, staff nutritionist for Everyday Health.

10.   The best choice should be water. Just water.

Clearly, diet sodas are not friendly to your heart, mind, and well-being. Reward from hard work or relief from stress shouldn’t be in the form of liquid artificial sweeteners. Leading a healthy lifestyle is beyond calorie counting. It should be something you can sustain for a lifetime.

Don’t trade your good health for drinks promising ‘zero calories’. Share this to save a friend from his sweet tooth, from a cruel fate!

Does coffee make you feel groggy in the morning?


  1. Nice article, keep up the good work 👍

  2. Fudge! I didn't know diet sodas are THAT bad. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thanks for the wonderful information

  4. Wow absolutely amazing, well written and an eye opener ❤️❤️❤️❤️

  5. All Natural Water is the best alternative, i guess. Thanks


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