Does Drinking Diet or Regular Soda Affect Cholesterol Levels?

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Both diet and regular soda can affect your cholesterol levels.
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Over the years, cholesterol has been highly implicated in heart disease. Although many people associate meat and eggs with high cholesterol, there may be more of a connection between sugar-sweetened beverages, like soda, and diet soda and cholesterol.

Although the connection between heart disease and cholesterol has been largely misunderstood, there are some types of cholesterol, like small LDL particles, and other types of lipids, like triglycerides, that can contribute to its development. Because both regular soda and diet soda can increase cholesterol levels, it's best to drink them sparingly or not at all.

Tip

Both regular soda and diet soda can negatively affect your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The fructose in regular soda and the artificial sweeteners in diet soda are largely to blame.

Regular Soda and Cholesterol Levels

Regular, sugar-sweetened sodas are one of the main sources of fructose in the American diet. In addition to contributing to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, fructose can have a negative effect on your cholesterol levels. According to a report that was published in Diabetes Care in January 2013, drinking beverages sweetened with fructose can increase both LDL and total cholesterol levels.

A report that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in April 2015 added that this change in cholesterol levels seems to affect men more than women. While LDL cholesterol and triglycerides went up in all participants in the study who drink fructose-sweetened beverages for a period of only two weeks, the effect was larger in men.

To add insult to injury, an October 2018 report in the journal Nutrients found that while increasing LDL cholesterol levels, sugar-sweetened beverages like soda could also decrease HDL, or "good," cholesterol levels. The report also connected consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages with abdominal obesity, increased fasting glucose and a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Read more: What Really Happens to Your Body When You Give Up Soda

Diet Soda and Cholesterol Levels

It seems like the simple solution to this would be to swap out the regular soda for diet soda, which doesn't have any calories, carbohydrates or fructose. But, unfortunately, the artificial sweeteners in diet soda that are used to replicate the sweet taste of fructose aren't much better.

As one study that was published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition in April 2017 points out, aspartame, an artificial sweetener used to sweeten some of the most popular soda brands, can increase LDL cholesterol, even without a change in body weight or other parameters, like total cholesterol.

Another study that was published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in August 2018 also found that artificial sweeteners could increase triglycerides, another important lipid to consider when it comes to heart disease. That same study also connected artificial sweeteners to increased waist circumference and higher fasting glucose levels, two factors involved in metabolic syndrome.

Read more: Artificial Sweeteners Linked to Weight Gain, Not Weight Loss

Healthy Drinks to Replace Soda

It probably doesn't come as a surprise, but water tops the list when it comes to healthy drinks to replace soda. Water helps carry nutrients and oxygen to your cells, aids in proper digestion and helps regulate your body temperature. Harvard Health Publishing also adds that drinking enough water can help normalize your blood pressure and keep your heart beat stable.

But if you're looking for something other than plain water, there are some other healthy choices that won't negatively affect your cholesterol levels. Some options include:

  • Flavored herbal teas over ice
  • Sparkling water flavored with fresh or frozen fruit
  • Hot water with a dash of cinnamon and a small amount of maple syrup
  • Flat or sparkling water with fresh mint leaves

While indulging in a soda once in a while probably won't have a significant impact on your cholesterol levels, it's best to drink water or one of these other unsweetened options most of the time.

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