When it comes to diet soda and diabetes, there are pros and cons. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) says it's best to drink zero or low-calorie drinks, and includes diet soda on the list. But the Mayo Clinic says there are a lot of low-calorie drinks that are better for you than diet soda.
"Research on soda versus diet soda has a lot of conflicting evidence," says Hillary Hart, RDN, LD, registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist at the Cleveland Clinic. "We do know that regular soda is something that will have an immediate effect on blood sugars, so it is a good idea for everyone to cut back on sugary beverage consumption altogether for overall health."
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But what about diet soda? "Even though it is marketed as a healthy alternative or better option for weight loss and diabetes, there are pros and cons to making the switch," Hart says.
Read more: Does Diet Soda Affect Insulin?
Benefits of Diet Soda for Diabetes
"The benefits of switching to diet soda are that it contains fewer calories and carbohydrates than regular soda, and it may aid in curbing a sugar craving," Hart says. The ADA says that you should avoid regular soda because one 12-ounce can have about 150 calories and 40 grams of carbohydrates, which is about the same as eating 10 teaspoons of sugar. Along with other drinks like water and unsweetened tea or coffee, the ADA rates diet soda as a zero or very low-calorie drink.
Some diet sodas have added vitamins or minerals, but it's not a silver bullet health drink. Also, while moving away from regular soda can certainly save you some calories, there is not much evidence that drinking diet soda helps people lose weight, the Mayo Clinic says.
The Downside of Diet Soda
"The downside is you gain no nutritional value from drinking it," Hart says. "It is full of potentially harmful additives, and research shows an increased risk of diabetes, weight gain and metabolic syndrome in both diet and regular soda intake."
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, diet soda on a regular basis can lead to weight gain. Although the exact reason is not known, it might be that when people drink diet soda, they eat more sugary foods.
Artificial sweeteners in diet sodas may also increase your risk of heart and blood vessel disease. The American Optometric Association says that diet soda is not necessarily a healthier alternative to regular soda. Drinking more than four cans a week may increase your risk of diabetic eye damage, a common diabetic complication called diabetic retinopathy that can lead to blindness.
"Some research has even found that drinking diet soda could cause changes to our gut microbiome. The artificial sweeteners found in these beverages may alter the gut flora, which is quite alarming because healthy gut bacteria play a crucial role in maintaining immune and metabolic balance," Hart says.
It's a healthier swap compared to regular soda, but is it the best swap you can make?
What to Drink Instead of Diet Soda
Although people with diabetes can drink diet soda, there are better choices. Hart says that regular soda and diet soda do not bring any nutritional value to your diet.
"The gold standard best beverage for people with and without diabetes is, and always will be, water," she says. "But water doesn't have to be boring. There are many different naturally flavored sparkling waters available in stores that can fill the carbonated drink void without all the additives of soda. Also, you can easily infuse your water at home by adding fresh-cut fruit or herbs for a refreshing and inexpensive beverage alternative."
The ADA recommends these as some other options:
- Unsweetened tea or coffee without cream.
- Low-fat or nonfat milk.
- 100 percent fruit juice with no added sugar.
- Low-sodium vegetable juice.
- Unsweetened soy, rice or almond milk.
- American Diabetes Association: “What Can I Drink?”
- Mayo Clinic: “I Drink Diet Soda Every Day. Could This Be Harmful?”
- Hillary Hart, RDN, LD, CDCES, registered dietitian, certified diabetes care and education specialist, Cleveland Clinic
- University of Rochester Medical Center: “Metabolic Syndrome and Soft Drinks”
- American Optometric Association: “Diet Soda Habit Associated With Blinding Diabetes Complications”