Diet Soda: Good or Bad?

by in Healthy Tips, March 9, 2010


You’d think soda was our national beverage the way people guzzle it. Opt for the regular stuff and you’re downing lots of extra calories and sugar; in comparison, calorie-free diet soda seems like a harmless alternative. But if you need a soda fix, is it better to swig sugar or artificial sweeteners? What about the caffeine and phophorus?

Here are some things to know about diet sodas (or any diet beverage for that matter).

The Good
The bright side to a diet soda is the lack of sugar-filled calories. Switching from a standard 12-ounce can of regular soda to the diet version will save an average of 100 calories and almost seven teaspoons of added sugar per can! If you’re someone that drinks multiple sodas a day, that can lead to some serious weight loss.

The Bad
If you do opt for diet soda, don’t think you can just drink and drink because it’s calorie-free. There are four good reasons to cut back:

  1. In place of sugar, diet beverages use artificial sweeteners — chemicals that should be consumed in moderation. There are theories that these artificial sweeteners might increase cravings for more sweet (and high-calorie) foods
  2. Many of these drinks contain caffeine, which may curb appetite temporarily, leading to overeating later in the day. A little pick me up is fine but if your total beverage count for the day comes from coffee and caffeinated sodas, you may want to cut back. Here’s a list of the caffeine content in popular beverages.
  3. Many of these drinks (especially colas) contain phosphorus, an important nutrient for bone formation and cell structure. The only problem is, too much can leech calcium from your bones, weakening them.
  4. The more soda you drink, the less water you’re taking in — water is free of calories, too!

Bottom Line: If you must have them, consume diet beverages in moderation — one 12-ounce serving a day MAX! If you’re looking to cut calories, make some room for water or seltzer, which you can flavor up with fruit slices or a splash of fruit juice for extra oomph.

TELL US: Are you a soda addict?

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Comments (118)

  1. Mike says:

    Now, I don't know how long it takes for the aspartame to break down. So.. I don't know if drinking a diet coke with your lunch is going to prevent you from sleeping at 10 pm that same night. I just thought it was interesting. Thanks cell biology teacher. :D

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  10. Jessica says:

    Julie, I hope you read and can absorb some information from Philip123's comment. This, I feel like, is an educational evaluation of diet soda. And, as an educated consumer, I am decaffeinated. I never drink soda. I think a guilty pleasure should be a cookie, not a carcinogen.

  11. Allison says:

    I completely agree. I could imagine this article in Shape magazine with the rest of the diplomatic, don't ruffle anyone's feathers, don't tell anyone the real truth kind of journalism that is dangerous for people to read. Bottom line this article still tells people it is ok to drink soda when it is absolutely not. Coke can take jet fuel out of clothing…imagine what it is doing to your stomach.

  12. beth says:

    sounds like perhaps we read two different articles. while they do point out a plus (fewer calories), the list of 'bad' is certainly longer. and 'if you must' is hardly a ringing endorsement. frankly, i'd rather here more info and be left to my own devices to make a decision, not be ordered to make a change by someone.

  13. Manny says:

    Great point… the article is simply pencil wipping the idea that sodas are okay, when in fact they are not.

  14. Jennifer says:

    I have to agree with you Jessica. I am starting to get tired of reading these articles on this site where they are not fully giving all the facts. Or maybe it's just me and my own opinions (maybe I should find another site that shares similar views??)

  15. mike says:

    I am new to the healthy lifestyle and thought that drinking diet soda was good thing so thank you for informing me about the toxins and the fact that they can lead to cancer I did not know that! do you have any web sites I can go to get better informed?

  16. Roberta Mershon says:

    Would love to know where you got your information so I can share it with my diet soda addicted friend. That was very enlightening!


  17. Jessie says:

    You can't truly take websites that don't have .gov, .edu., or .org at the end of them as if they are completely true. Get your information from websites that end in those letters and you will get accurate information (they are regulated and have to be true).

  18. AMB says:

    I definitely agree with this! I drank too much diet soda and ended up with some serious complications including: hypothyroidism, hair loss, vision loss and severe confusion/dizziness. I stopped consuming products containing aspartame and my symptoms are improving. Artificially chemicals are not meant to be processed by your body in any amount. I honestly think that aspartame would be off of the FDA's approval list if Coke didn't have such a huge lobby.

  19. Meh says:

    Based on the research, a person could not physically drink enough diet soda for it to be considered carcinogenic to the body. If you want up-to-date information on topics like this, I would suggest reading journals with peer-reviewed research findings.

  20. Jessica, this is one article of hundreds that we've shared here on Healthy Eats in the 14 months that we've been around. We've done pieces before talking about artificial sweeteners, about explaining what common ingredients on labels are (including some that show up on diet sodas), about smarter drink choices to make (and what not to be duped by) and Toby has also talked about the news on soda taxes and other latest debates in her weekly news round ups (they publish every Friday afternoon).

    Unfortunately, because of space, we can't go into every last little debate or detail about a certain item but it is an ongoing discussion here and we cover bits and pieces every day. Of course, if you have questions or concerns or differing opinions, we always welcome everyone to voice them in the comments and we respond to everything we can.

  21. Nancy says:

    Jessica – Can you give me specific data about the formaldehyde issue? My husband is addicted to diet coke, and I had heard about formaldehyde, but until I can prove it to him, he won't budge from his habit. He has talked to a cardiologist, internist and a friend who is a chemist, and they all say that you should drink diet sodas (actually anything but water) in moderation, but all say that the formaldehyde information is a myth. I would love to have cold, hard facts to show him and hopefully convince him to wean himself off diet coke. He knows about the chemicals, but says that most of our food has preservatives and chemicals in it and it is unrealistic to think diet cokes are worse than anything else. I'd appreciate any specific info. you might have. Thanks

  22. Monir says:

    I propose we introduce some concrete health facts to supplement the conclusive facts behind; this article, the soda industry, and oh, say, America in general. To start, this is a challenge to what i read, and to thank you for the ''food for thought'' that led me to my response. To begin, there is no chance of having any popular entity representing/affiliated to a corporation that has any net worth writing something that is anti-product. Granted, products such as tobacco are campaigned against long enough to be slandered freely, and the evils of tobacco are well known; however products like beverages or food won't receive the same hard press from any (intelligent) publication. Lawsuits are designed to make sure this does not happen. Reducing a product's image or popularity in anything but a medical journal just isn't smart to write or to believe. The purpose of this website is to endorse whoever may pay their bills and to promote ideas that will sell said company(s) products, and to not offend others in tandem. This is a perfect segue into what capitalism thrives on; money, consumption and ideology to be promoted for consumption of products. I believe that is self explanatory; don't break those rules, and do well. Regarding the sheer health issue; certain chemicals/compounds are harmful to the body, such as alcohol, or heroin for example. The body metabolises them in forms different from their original, such as heroin (Diacetylmorphine) being metabolised as morphine (morphine sulfate). But, certain chemicals do not occur organically, and cannot be metabolised. Compounds such as formaldehyde, for example. Simply put, nothing but formaldehyde will turn into formaldehyde by your body, especially not a sweetener. Sweeteners will most likely cause some form of cancer, but will not kill you immediately. Because they might (allegedly) cause cancer, they will provide patients to support a very large (billion dollar) medical and cancer treatment/research industry. Thusly, life in America will go on, people such as yourself will not be paid attention to, and there will be much controversy to oil all the gears that keep us in motion. Let's not spoil that with mindless anti-soda articles.

  23. Allison says:

    Actually, juice is still not a "good" choice but its a better one. It packs the same sugar and calorie punch that soda does adding liquid calories that don't satiate you. The one benefit in part is the vitamins it provides but its still better to get those from the real thing. Bottom line…water and herbal unsweetened teas are really the only "best" choices.

  24. Lisa says:

    water is the best. poland spring sparkling water!

  25. virginia says:

    I beleive you. I can't drink my diet soda in the afternoon or else I won't be able to sleep the same night.

  26. Chris says:

    julo try the calastoga mineral water. Once I got use to it I was able to kick my soda habit. Now I won't go back.

  27. marthball says:

    Right On!
    My doc is always saying to cut out coffee, but it is a preventative for diabetes, and now is believed to PREVENT heart arrhythmias!
    I love my coffee and diet sodas.
    I remember a former doctor of mine was starving himself, because of reading that severe calorie restriction prolongs lifespan. I thought, under those circumstances, what's the point?

  28. Nick says:

    no wonder my health insurance rates are high…

    whether you know it or not (I can guess which), you are destroying your body on a cellular level on a daily basis. Basically, you are poisoning yourself, like most of the rest of the country.

    Think of putting mud in your car's gas tank…

  29. Beverly says:

    WTG Ranger99!! Loved you comment! I'm sick of hearing do this, don't do this, eat this, now don't eat it..yada, yada, yada! It's damned if you do, or damned if you don't! Enjoy life the way you want to, and not how everyone else wants you to!

  30. Jessica says:

    It's like saying that smoking is fine in moderation because smoking has 0 calories as well, and can curb hunger. I mean, it just sounds ridiculous. Just because something has 0 calories, or is fat free, doesnt mean you should eat it – even in moderation. The truth is, many fast foods and packaged foods, including fat free, overly processed foods along with diet cola are just not healthy no matter how much you moderate it, and it's really disappointing to hear the repetitive 'OK in moderation' line again and again instead of giving real facts about respecting your body and living a healthy lifestyle.

  31. Jessica says:

    Allison! i totally agree with you. "…eat a handful of nuts. drink 8 glasses of water a day. everything is OK in moderation". These blogs and magazines say the same things over and over. Then everyone eats bags of 100 calorie oreos (because they're 'only 100 calories') and drinks diet sodas. America needs to change! Just because its low in fat or calories doesn't make it healthy to give to your children, or yourself.

  32. erin says:

    barb- i agree… although for me it is diet coke or diet dr pepper… doesnt it seem like everything is bad for you nowadays… what are u going to do…

  33. Guess What says:

    Risking you life for a Pepsi how dumb is that. Pepsi don`t even know you let along care. What about your kids if you have any or family members I think you’re too old to be selfish. Something you might want to think about.

  34. Also a Barb says:

    I hope that you don't have any issues with your bone health as you age. I have had them, and I believe sodas are the reason. I used to drink many sodas in a day, and had to switch to diet ones for the same reason as you. I still drink an occasional diet soda, but am making the effort not to drink even one a day.

  35. dieting mom says:

    Have you ever tried diest rite? no sugar…uses splenda…no caffeine, and no sodium

  36. Pat says:

    Thanks for the suggestion Mike. Think I'll try it.

  37. Carolyn says:


  38. concerned says:

    Science is not black and white. It never has been. However, "they" (researchers) are responsible for elucidating what sound, rigorous and competent studies show. And we as a society rely on the breadth of solid evidence based research to live healthier, longer and have a better quality of life. As technology advances and our understanding of how the integrated systems of the body work and interact with the food, pharmaceuticals, and nutraceuticals we consume, we gain invaluable information. To make such a broad sweeping statement implying that "they" are willy-nilly and are egocentric is irresponsible and ignorant.

  39. Charlie H says:

    Turn off your caps lock. You aren't the N.Y. Post.

  40. Nick says:

    Well, when you trust your body to a corporations decisions to use chemicals instead of FOOD, you are the gullible one…

    It's funny that you fault the researchers, but never suspect the corporations who are using the chemicals at the expense of your body/health.

  41. Jennifer says:

    I agree with Dan,stick with water or juice, but stick with juices that are made with 100% juice. If reading labels, the sugar content may seem high, but in most cases, there won't be any added sugar. Any beverage made without chemicals and artificial sweeteners would be better than soda.

  42. Lisa says:

    the difference between soda and juice is the difference between simple sugars and complex carbs which are better for you.

  43. Kay Stover says:

    I'm a 68 year old female that was a diet pepsi addict about the same as your coke, I had one bladder infection after another caused from the stuff you put in dead body's. When I switched to 7 up it took over 6 months to get it out of my system, still not fuctioning normal I went to unsweeten tea, with 2 cans of 7 up a day, now I down to ice water and unsweeten tea. My bladder and kidneys are normal and I have now lost 27 pounds in 9 months. If I have to have sweetner for anything I use Stevia.

  44. Linda says:

    All these things you are saying is true! Diet pop also causes brain tumors. It took me 2 months to kick the diet pop addiction. Folks should try water and fresh lemon juice with stevia, chill the drink and serve over ice. This is how I got off the diet pop. Also I do not have headaches anymore. Thanks Linda

  45. Gail VE says:

    Hurrah for you!!! I agree: no such thing as "healthy moderation" when it comes to putting chemicals in our system that we can't process. I read this article with the sole purpose of writing what you wrote….lucky I scrolled down to see what everyone had to say. Thank-you Dr. Maher for your voice of reason!!

  46. Jennifer says:

    Good luck on your goal. Glad to hear you are setting a realistic goal for yourself.

  47. Jennifer says:

    Sweet tea is a stable in our fridge too. If you make it yourself you can obviously adjust the sugar, of course sweet tea wouldn't be sweet without the sugar! ;-) We have actually switched and have been using organic cane sugar, that with good quality tea, ah, perfect!

  48. T J says:

    Is there someone you know that also would like to cut down / quit? Maybe together you can be more successful.

  49. sally says:

    I had the same problems with headaches. I would get migranes every single day. It was ridiculous. I thought I had a brain tumor or something. So my doctor suggested the caffine addiction. As for the stomach thing I dunno.. I do know that sodas have very high phs. Like between 1 and 2 which is VERY VERY acidic. Like hydrochloric acid. Of course your stomach is something like 2.3 ph. Maybe that's it. If it works for you stick with it.

  50. Marina says:

    Try making a large jug of iced tea using Stevia – a natural alternative. Plus, if you use a re-usable bottle you can help the environment and reduce plastic bottles in land fills. Best of all it saves you a bunch of money.

  51. Marina says:

    Do you mean Stevia? It's a natural plant sweetener from South America with little impact on your blood sugar levels and no calories. It can be found in Health food shops, Trader Joes. A commercial brand named Truvia is excellent and is sold at supermarkets.

  52. Marina says:

    Moderation is always key but unfortunately we live in the land of excess and alot of people just don't cook , therefore make bad food decisions at all the wonderfully available fast food chains. I work nights as a nurse and I am always amazed at the snack food that comes in. I do follow a simple rule, came it natural and minimally processed- and why should I buy a can of tomatoes with sugar as an ingredient- it simply does not need to be there, I would rather have my sugar as a desert.

  53. danawhite says:

    Hi kdarnell –
    You bring up another important issue. Acid foods, including carbonated beverages, can wear away and damage tooth enamel. Sugary sodas contain higher amounts of acid than diet versions and can cause even more damage. Thanks for your comment.

  54. Lisa says:

    Do you know what erythritol is? I drink Poland Spring Sparkling Spring Water with either essence of lemon, lime, orange and strawberry. No sugar or additives. Now I do not take any antacids. I was drinking up to 2 liters of diet a day. You can either have it home delivered or buy it at Costco by the case.

  55. JoAnn says:

    Where do you get this Zevia? I have heard of the sweetner Truvia…but nit the diet beverage.

  56. danawhite says:

    Hi Guess What –
    Tea can be a healthy choice because it's low in calories and high in antioxidants. But, many bottled teas are highly sweetened with sugar or high fructose corn syrup — all those empty calories can add up fast! The diet versions have the same types of artificial sweeteners as diet sodas, so check the labels on your favorite brands.

  57. That's actually not entirely accurate. Anyone can register a domain under ".org" and, while only ".edu" is reserved for education institutions, often students are able to create websites under those domains and they may not be monitored, fact-checked or verified as authentic.

    Your best bet when getting information from an online source is to check up on who exactly is the voice behind it. We share all our credentials and details on our About Us section. You can read that by clicking the link at the very top of the page under our banner image and logo.

  58. Jessica says:

    Mike, like i just told to Roberta, the book Skinny Bitch is VERY informative! i really loved that book because it does tell you the truths about food, and there is a chapter in there about soda -diet and regular – that made me stopped drinking diet soda, stopped using equal, sweet and low, and stopped putting chemicals into my food. I feel a million times better now.

  59. Jessica says:

    Jennifer, Thank you so much for agreeing with me! i hope the Healthy Eats administrators will read all these comments and be more upfront and in formative with us about healthy eating. I havent seen any websites now that are really informative, but there are a lot of great books!

  60. Jessica says:

    I know this post may not be posted, but as you can see from this forum, it seems that other people are bringing up points about diet soda that was not noted in your article. As I said before, i'm also really surprised that the article didnt bring up NY's soda tax debate. You're reaching so many people with your blog, and I really hope that you and your colleagues will research more and give more information when posting. America is a fat nation! obviously 'everything in moderation' isnt working for us. It's OK to say that some things are not included in a healthy lifestyle. Not to say that you can never eat it- you can eat whatever you want – but it's important to note that those things are not apart of a healthy lifestyle. I'm so so SO surprised, and disappointed that you arent taking the initiative to say those things to us.

  61. danawhite says:

    Hi Jessica –
    I see that you share my passion for nutrition. Board certified nutrition professionals (including registered dietitians like myself) do extensive research on every topic we discuss. Nutrition issues are not black and white and unfortunately there is quite a bit of misinformation out there. We do our best to convey the most accurate information possible. A healthy lifestyle is about enjoying all types of food as well as getting reliable information from qualified professionals.

    We reported on the soda tax back in June and have another article about it posting later today.

    Thanks for your comments — we value the views and diverse perspectives of all our readers.

  62. Jessica says:

    Thanks Kristine,
    I understand about the space issue, but I do wish that your website, since it's called HealthyEats, would highlight that some foods and drinks are not fine in moderation when living a healthy lifestyle. It's America, obviously everyone is free to make their own choices, but if you're talking about health, you should provide a guide. I think instead, you should say "this item, since it is nutrition-free and is loaded with chemicals, is not apart of a healthy lifestyle — even in moderation. instead try selzter water with juice".

    If we were talking about Tasty Cakes would you say that they're fine in moderation? I feel like your blog would instead give some guidance and advice on at-home cooking.

    bottom line: I think all the diet and health conscious have read and heard enough repetition through the years, and we need a breath of fresh air. Hopefully you can help us!

  63. i really need to change WOW some of this stuff is real scary to me since i practicaly live on diet pepsi

  64. lindapwg says:

    OK then, guess I'll see you in your doctor's office. I do neurological testing, and it's been my experience that people put lots of chemicals into their system usually end up with swollen legs and ankles, begin to lose feeling in their extremities (neuropathy), and eventually cannot walk. And that's just one aspect. If you live in the NYC metro area, there's a good chance it'll be me zapping you with electrical current to test your nerves. Please realize that this is preventable. I hope you remain well. Good luck.

  65. Jessica says:

    Nancy, as I've said before in previous replies, I think you should turn to a book called Skinny B*tch. It was the first book I read that gave me a tough love guide to healthy lifestyle. It's short, a quick read, and very informative! From there you can read many other books such as Fast Food Nation, the Omnivor's Dilemma, or watch Food Inc. to learn about other food of today. What's sad is that, in order to learn about what's in our grocery stores, and on our dinner table, we have to read books. The reality is that the food that we eat today is NOT the same food that our parents and grandparents ate. There is corn in almost every product. We are playing God by genetically modifying our food. Our meat can come from cloned cows now, and the we literally have no clue that this is happening. We as humans have CREATED E.Coli disease by feeding our cattle feces, dead chickens, and corn. For the record, Cows are supposed to be fed grass. The cow's stomach is creating and illness that comes out through the feces, and the workers are careless and the feces gets in our food – not only in our meat, but in spinach, peanut butter etc. It's so important for us to be educated about what we're eating and what we're feeding our children! Please educate yourself and your husband, and if you have children – not only about diet soda, but start there and you will be so surprised at where your curiosity will lead you.

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