Regular vs Diet Soda - is one really healthier than the other?

Attention soda lovers! Further to the Pepsi vs Coke debate (which, if I had to weigh in, I was raised on team Pepsi) is the debate of regular vs. diet.

Now, let’s get one thing clear, I’m not advocating that you drink soda – whether it’s regular or diet. There are healthier drink options all around us (I list some at the bottom of this post).

However, I know that for some of you reading this, you’re used to your soft drink and aren’t quite ready to give it up. So let’s look at the facts when it comes to choosing regular vs diet so that when you do choose a soft drink, you can make the best choice for you.

Disclaimer: you might not love the answer, but you need to recognize where soda stands in terms of nutritional output (there’s not much).

You don’t have to be a health nut to know that soda isn’t good for you. But is it really all that bad?

Is it ok to just have it once in a while? And if you’re going to have it, is it better to have the regular ol’ sugar-filled version or the zero calorie “diet” kind?

Well, let’s weigh-in on the facts:

Regular soda - as bad as they say?

PROS:

  • It doesn’t contain artificial sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, saccharin) that have been the subject of a lot of studies lately to see how these chemicals affect our bodies

CONS:

  • The sugar! A 12-ounce can of cola has about 8 teaspoons; almost the daily limit as recommended by the American Heart Association. Remember, you’d be drinking that in addition to any other sugar you’re getting in the rest of your diet.
  • Drinking 1-2 cans a day can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes by up to 26%
  • Regular sodas are filled with High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) which is linked to obesity, heart disease and fatty liver disease

Diet soda - is it actually better for you?

PROS:

  • It feeds the craving for something sweet without adding extra calories or carbs, if you’re concerned about this
  • Since it’s sugar-free, diabetics can sip without worrying about the direct hit to their insulin and blood sugar levels

CONS:

  • While diet soda may be considered ‘safe’ for diabetics, they are far from nutritious as the artificial sweeteners in diet soda actually cause you to crave more sugar. When we drink it, our body is expecting sugar. Then when it doesn’t get it, it responds with even more cravings - for sugar!
  • Diet soda drinkers tend to gain more weight particularly around their belly. One study said that frequent drinkers of diet soda gained up to three times more belly fat than their non-diet soda drinking counterparts.
  • Diet soda is now being linked with cancer, heart attacks, strokes and neurological disorders.

The verdict on soda

Neither regular or diet soda are going to improve your health. They are literally devoid of any health benefits. In fact, both are linked to significant health issues.

So what should you choose?

The best bet would be to steer clear of both, if you can. However, if you do decide to have a soda from time to time, the choice is ultimately up to you.

If you’re sensitive to sugar, then perhaps the diet soda may be your best bet. But, if artificial sweeteners wreak havoc on your digestive system, you may want to go with the regular soda instead.

What to drink instead

The healthiest drink you can give your body is plain old water. And while water may not seem as exciting as soda, you can shake it up by adding lemon, lime or berries - or even cucumber and mint for a bit of flavour.

Sparkling waters (sugar free and artificial sweetener free) can also be a great alternative for a soda replacement since they still contain some bubbles and fizz. Many soda lovers have converted to these fizzy healthier alternative drinks:

If you’re someone who only drinks soda when it’s paired in a cocktail, try switching up your drink of choice so it contains less sugar. Go for sparkling water, add a splash of lime, or even take your drink on the rocks and sip it. It might take longer to drink, but you’re way ahead in terms of avoid additional sugar or taking in potentially harmful chemicals. It’s something to think about.

Recipe:

For another delicious way to stay hydrated, try this refreshing coconut water based hydrator:

Lemon-Lime Refresher Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of water (filtered, sparkling or even better - coconut water!)
  • ¼ cup of fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup of fresh lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp. of maple syrup or honey (or stevia to taste for a sugar-free alternative)
  • ¼ tsp Himalayan pink salt
  • Ice cubes

How to prepare

Combine all ingredients well. Then sip throughout the day and enjoy.

References

Wiley Online Library - Diet study & waist circumference study

CNN - Diet Soda May Do More Harm Than Good

Harvard School of Public Health - Soft Drinks & Disease

American Heart Association - Sugar 101

Healthline - Is Diet Soda Safe for Diabetes?

Selina Rose
A holistic nutritionist, writer, non-granola yogi, and coach dedicated to helping you find sustainability in your health so you can play full-out in life (whatever that looks like for you).
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Author: Selina Rose

A holistic nutritionist, writer, non-granola yogi, and coach dedicated to helping you find sustainability in your health so you can play full-out in life (whatever that looks like for you).