The Skinny on Diet Sodas

Health Professional

Everyone knows that when you are on a diet, regular soda just isn't on the menu. But order up a diet soda, have as many as you want, and you are doing a great job, right? Well, maybe not so much.

There is, and always has been, a lot of press surrounding diet sodas and artificial sweeteners (which are what give diet soda its sweet taste). For years, it has been suggested that these enticing and oh-so-delicious beverages not only rot your stomach lining and your teeth, but even can rot your brain....anyone remember the mid-90's urban legend about certain diet sodas killing memory brain cells?

I am not convinced either way on any of the above, but what I can talk to you about  are the potential risks and benefits that are associated with diet sodas such that you can make your own decision to drink on up or pass on by.

Let's break it down into some "Myths and Facts":** 1. Diet soda destroys your stomach lining.**

MYTH/FACT (depending). Soda is acidic. Acidic foods and beverages can be hard on certain people's digestive systems but in general, our bodies are pretty good at adjusting. An occasional soda here and there is not going to wreak havoc on your stomach if you don't have underlying conditions to begin with. If you are having problems with acid reflux, indigestion or ulcers then, indeed, sodas probably aren't the best and you should avoid as they will exacerbate these conditions.

2. Diet soda rots your teeth.

FACT. As stated above, soda is acidic. Acid is hard on your teeth. Continuously drinking soda throughout the day is definitely not a good thing to do if you want to preserve a sparkling smile. My advice: if you want to enjoy a soda (diet or otherwise), do so through a straw and brush your teeth immediately after.

3. Diet soda kills your brain cells.

MYTH(??). I actually consider the jury to be still out on this one. It really has more to do with the artificial sweeteners and other artificial ingredients than anything else. We really don't have all the answers when it comes to long-term effects of artificial anything. While it appears that regular (in other words: in moderation) human consumption of FDA-approved additives is perfectly safe, there is no 100% guarantee.

4. Diet soda is dangerous to drink when pregnant.

MYTH. Although there are a couple of things to note here: When folks are talking about the dangers of diet-soda-drinking while pregnant, we can assume they are referring to one of two (or both) things: 1. Concern about artificial ingredients and 2. Concern about caffeine. We talked a little about the artificial stuff earlier and when in doubt, it is best to limit consumption of anything artificial. But a little is fine and there has been no hard evidence that moderate consumption of diet soda has any adverse effects on fertility and/or a healthy pregnancy. One a day is the typical mandate here. Regarding caffeine, while it is known that excessive intake of caffeine can be harmful and is not recommended for those trying to conceive or for those currently pregnant, one or two caffeinated beverages per day are just fine.

5. Diet soda is a no-no when breastfeeding.

MYTH. Really, same answer as above but my personal feeling is: when you are trying to get that sweet baby to get a little shut-eye (so Mom and Dad can too), why push the envelope by consuming caffeine that passes straight through to Junior? Bring on the decaf iced tea

6. Diet soda helps you lose weight.

MYTH. This actually falls in a gray zone but is in the neighborhood located much closer to myth-land. It is true that there are no (or very few) calories in diet soda and all things considered, if you reduced your calorie intake and increased your energy expenditure through exercise, a diet soda or two each day will not help or harm. And we do know that regular soda is full of empty calories and sugar so getting away from this stuff is a good idea. The issue here with diet soda is that recent studies suggest that the taste of it may actually trick our bodies into wanting the calories it has been "promised" by the sweet tasting beverage, thus essentially sabotaging our best laid plans.

7. Diet soda, in moderation, is probably just fine.

FACT. As with anything, moderation is the key. If you enjoy diet soda, go ahead and have one-just not every day/all day. Better choices when the thirst strikes: water and decaf iced tea (particularly green or white). If plain water bores you, try the sparkling kind or throw in some limes, lemons or other fruit for flavor.