For over 60 years, consumers have enjoyed sugar-free sodas that provide sweet and fizzy refreshment without the calories of the regular kind. From the early days of Diet Rite Cola and TaB sweetened with cyclamate and saccharin, to the modern day with diet sodas being sweetened with aspartame, the soda industry has evolved to provide an array of low-calorie options from cola and flavored cola to ginger ale, lemon-lime and fruit-flavored varieties. But along with innovation comes confusion about these beverages and how they influence our nutrition and health status. Three of the most common diet soda myths will be explored in this blog.
Diet Soda Causes Weight Gain
Claims that diet soda thwarts weight loss are largely based on observational studies that look at groups of people and their health habits, finding that those who drink diet soda are more likely to be overweight. This is a correlation, meaning two factors are related but one doesn’t necessarily cause the other. Overweight people could drink diet soda to cut calorie intake. On the other hand, research evaluating beverage intake and weight loss leads to different results. In one study, participants who replaced calorie-containing beverages with no-calorie beverages had an average weight loss of 2% to 2.5%. (1) In a 12-week study, those who consumed artificially sweetened beverages as part of a reduced calorie diet lost more weight than those who drank only water, 13 lbs. vs. 9 lbs. (2)
Diet Soda Doesn’t Hydrate
For years, caffeine was implicated as a diuretic so beverages like coffee, tea and cola were not considered hydrating. However, there was little evidence to support this. In fact, several published over the last 15 years have found caffeine-containing beverages are just as hydrating as water. (3, 4) Based on this research, the Institute of Medicine’s 2004 Dietary Reference Intakes for Water states, “About 80 percent of people’s total water intake comes from drinking water and beverages — including caffeinated beverages — and the other 20 percent is derived from food.” (5)
Diet Soda Makes You Crave Sweets
A final oft-quoted myth asserts that consuming foods or beverages with low-calorie sweeteners drives sweet cravings so you end up eating more. While there is no real data to support this, research has shown that consuming sweet-tasting foods or beverages actually leads to a decrease in the appeal of all sweet products. (6) In addition, members of the National Weight Control Registry, who have successfully lost and kept weight off, consumed three times more artificially sweetened soft drinks, more water and significantly fewer sugar-sweetened soft drinks compared to a group of never overweight individuals. (7) In another study with 400 people, researchers found that low-calorie sweeteners do not over-stimulate sweet receptors to produce elevated sweet sensations. (8)
In conclusion, diet soda is a great choice for hydration, to satisfy your sweet tooth and cool you off as hot summer days approach!
Neva Cochran, MS, RDN, LD is a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Dallas. She was a freelancer with Woman’s World magazine for 20 years and currently serves as a nutrition communications consultant to a variety of food and nutrition organizations, including the Calorie Control Council. She is passionate about promoting fact-based food and nutrition information to help people enjoy nutritious eating. Follow her on Twitter @NevaRDLD and check out her blog at www.NevaCochranRD.com.