Diet Soda vs. Regular Soda: Is One Worse For You Than The Other?

Diet Coke vs. Regular: Which is the healthier option? Photo courtesy of Brandonw365 CC BY-NC 2.0

Most people are aware that both regular and diet soda are bad for your health, but when it comes to which is worse, things get a bit tricky. The truth is they are both pretty unhealthy in their own separate ways. Here’s a quick run-through of how both beverages affect the human body to help you make a more educated decision when picking your poison.

Diet Soda

The Good

Some prefer diet soda because it fails to leave the residue on their teeth that regular soda does. This is because diet soda gets its flavoring from artificial sweeteners, not natural sugar. Bacteria in the mouth, also known as plaque, need sugar to grow, so diet soda isn’t going to be directly contributing to any new cavities in that lovely white smile of yours. However, this doesn’t mean that your dentist is likely to recommend you drink a can of diet soda a day to maintain a healthy mouth. Diet soda may not contain sugar, but it does have acid, and over time this acid can strip the enamel from your teeth and leave them more vulnerable to cavities from other sugary foods and drinks you may consume.

The Bad

Although the calorie-free aspect of diet soda may sound enticing to those trying to maintain a healthy weight, don’t be fooled. It has been suggested that diet soda actually contributes to weight gain, not weight loss. “Artificial sweeteners found in diet sodas have been found to increase sugar cravings because it’s not a natural source of sugar and the brain continues to seek the real deal,” Marissa Puleo, a registered licensed dietitian explained to Medical Daily. “This can lead to increased eating and drinking because your body isn’t satisfied.” One study even suggested that along with increasing desire for fattening foods, the artificial flavoring in diet soda actually interfered with the natural bacteria in our guts, making us less tolerant of glucose.

The Ugly

One study from the University of Miami revealed an even scarier effect of diet soda when they correlated the beverage’s consumption to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. In the study, 2,465 participants were asked to document what beverages they drink and how often they drink them. The participants were followed for nine years, and results found those who drank diet soda were 48 percent more likely to have a heart attack or stroke when compared to those who rarely drank any soda. Although the researchers emphasized that their findings do not prove diet soda had caused the participants' heart problems, it does add to a plethora of studies documenting both regular and diet soda’s effect on our most important organ.

Regular Soda

The Good

When it comes to drinking soda, moderation is the key. A 12-ounce can of soda packs approximately 140 calories and around 10 teaspoons of sugar. While this may not seem necessarily good at first, compared to the sugar content of other drinks on the market, this is nothing. For example, Snapple may advertise being made from “the best stuff on Earth,” but the average bottle contains around 200 calories. A bottle of Starbuck’s Mocha Frappucino also has 200 calories per serving, and the very least amount of calories you can look for in a 16-ounce serving of Jamba Juice is 210 calories.

Although we all need a certain amount of calories each day to keep our bodies running, when we take in more calories than we can use, they get stored as fat. According to HowStuffWorks, 3,500 extra calories equals one extra pound of body fat. So, as far as high-calorie drinks go, your average can of Coke is far from being the top contender, and an occasional can of soda most probably isn’t going to make that big of a difference.  

The Bad

Just because soda doesn’t contain the highest amount of calories doesn’t mean it's not contributing to your waistline. A 2012 Gallup survey found that 48 percent of Americans drink at least one glass of soda a day. This means that, for the vast majority of us, moderation just isn’t happening. Some suggest that soda is a large contributor to the current “obesity epidemic” the United States has been experiencing for some time. “If everything else in their diet is equal, a person who has a can of Coke a day adds an extra 14.5 pounds per year, just from the calories alone,” Dr. Christopher Ochner, assistant professor of adolescent medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York told Fox News.

The Ugly

Soda doesn’t just affect one’s weight. Too much of the stuff can have negative consequences on a person’s overall health. One study from 2002 found that diets too high in refined sugar, such as that found in soda, could reduce the production of a chemical known as brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and compromises an individual’s learning and memory formation. A more recent study from 2012 linked the consumption of just one can of regular soda a day to a 20 percent increase in heart attack risk, when compared to those who drank no soda. Drinking soda has even been linked to an increased chance of developing asthma and/or COPD. “There exists a dose-response relationship, which means the more soft drink one consumes, the higher the chance of having these diseases,” wrote Dr. Zumin Shi, lead researcher of the 2012 study on this subject.


Puleo concluded that, at the end of the day, it’s hard to say whether diet or regular soda is better than the other. “They both have pros and cons, and they both contain zero nutrition,” she said. “For someone who wants a zero-calorie beverage, diet soda would be the way to go.” However, the dietician point out those who drink diet soda often feel they are allowed to indulge in calories in other ways. “The regular soda contains about 140 calories, but you may be satisfied after drinking it and wouldn’t feel the desire to keep eating or drinking.” 


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