Soft drinks and sodas are enjoyed on their own, mixed with rum or vodka, pumped with cherry flavoring or even with a scoop of ice cream inside. It is not a kept secret that while people enjoy soda, in a variety of ways, it isn’t necessarily a healthful choice of drink.
“I drink it and I don’t think it’s the healthiest choice,” says Dr. Kathleen Keller, a professor in the Nutritional Sciences department at the Penn State College of Health and Human Development specializing in food selection.
“It’s high in phosphoric acid and it’s not great for your teeth,” says Dr. Keller. “However, you can integrate that into a healthy diet.”
A general rule of thumb in eating healthy is that you can always have foods and drinks that might not be super nutritious in moderation. However, if you find yourself to be an avid soda drinker, diet sodas have become hugely popular to drink every day without all the sugar in normal sodas.
What is a Diet Soda?
Diet sodas, like Diet Pepsi and Diet Coke (if you’re off-campus), are sodas without high fructose corn syrup which is what most sodas in America use for sugar.
Instead, diet sodas contain artificial sweeteners like Stevia, aspartame and other forms of alternative sugars. Oftentimes, diet sodas contain little to no calories and zero grams of sugar.
As opposed to sodas, like regular Coke which has 39 grams of sugar alone and 139 calories, diet sodas seem like the healthier alternative to those looking to decrease their calorie or sugar intake.
However, with diet soda’s unnatural ingredient list and the ability to drink many without consuming large amounts of sugar, the question remains if diet sodas are actually better for you than regular sodas.
The answer: It depends.
When Are Diet Sodas a Better Option Than Soda?
According to Dr. Keller, diet sodas are a good option for those who drink a lot of sugared beverages and are looking to decrease that kind of sugar consumption.
In general, Dr. Keller says that those who drink diet sodas over regular sodas do better overall in their body weight, but there are still issues with consuming a large amount of diet sodas.
“You still don’t want to overdo it,” says Dr. Keller. A short-term solution to weaning off excessive soda drinking is definitely diet soda, but long-term consumption of diet sodas is not much better.
According to a study in 2011 by the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, drinking diet soda frequently could increase your risk of having a stroke by 48%.
In a study of animals and diet soda, “they have found that it [diet soda] can lead animals to develop diabetes they’re priming the body to release insulin to get sugar because there’s no sugar,” says Dr. Keller. While the study didn’t observe humans, it is safe to say that in excess, both can be equally harmful.
Enjoying Soda (And Diet Soda) In Moderation
Contrary to someone who consumes a soda or more a day, if you are someone who only indulges in a Coke or Mountain Dew every few days, there is really no need to switch to a diet version.
Dr. Keller says, “In the case you are only drinking a regular coke every three days if you don’t need to monitor your blood sucrose.”
Same goes for diet sodas, both are OK in moderation mixed with a healthy diet.
Most Healthful Drink Choice?
If you choose to drink diet sodas as a healthy drink choice, you might want to consider sparkling water or infused waters instead. “If the carbonation is something you want there are so many options to get what what you want,” says Dr. Keller.
Many companies sell seltzer waters, flavored seltzer waters and infused waters with varying flavors to pick from. Some popular ones are Olipop, LaCroix, Bubly, Spindrift, Perrier Sparkling Water, etc. You can find more here.
Pro tip: You can even use sparkling beverages as mixers for alcoholic drinks if you are an avid lover of rum and cokes, etc.
The bottom line of the battle between diet soda, soda and other drinks, is that in moderation, everything can fit perfectly into your diet as long as there is balance and nutritious foods to support a healthy lifestyle.