New Reasons to Think Twice About Diet Drinks

While the scientific evidence is incomplete, research suggests that there are negative health consequences from long-term consumption of diet drinks.

Everyone knows that water is the healthiest choice when it comes to calorie-free refreshment, but unless you’re drinking infused water, it can get kind of boring. Even at that, lots of people crave drinks that are bubbly or sweet, or both! If you’re still on the fence about whether or not diet drinks are healthier than regular when choosing a late afternoon pick-me-up from the vending machine, a new article published in the journal Circulation, might make you choose sides, once and for all.

What the Study Found

An advisory committee made up of health experts spent two years reviewing dozens of studies about the health effects (good and bad) of drinking beverages that contain low-calorie sweeteners. They looked at how these sweeteners impact weight, risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cognition. Their conclusion? The science was too limited to make solid conclusions about the health effects of diet drinks. But, based on the evidence currently available, their best advice is to replace both diet and sugary drinks with plain, carbonated or unsweetened flavored water.

Drinking Soda Is a Downward Trend

When researchers compared data from 2000 to 2014, they found that adults and kids are drinking fewer sugar-laden drinks as well as diet drinks. Experts realize, however, that it’s hard to go cold-turkey when giving up something sweet. In those cases, they relented, diet drinks might be a good way to transition from sugary drinks to unsweetened, with the ultimate goal of significantly cutting consumption.

The committee was more cautious when it came to advice for children because there’s so little data on the long-term effects of diet drinks; it really is best to start healthier habits at a young age. One exception, though, was kids with diabetes. They suggested that, if they’re following a healthy diet and monitoring their blood sugar closely, their levels might benefit from diet drinks in place of sugary drinks when needed.

(Here’s what happened to one TOH staffer when she gave up sugar for a month.)

The Bottom Line

“Artificial soda—there’s nothing good about it,” shared Christopher Gardner, who was lead author on the 2012 scientific statement from the AHA and the American Diabetes Association on diet drinks. He’s the director of Nutrition Studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center and suggested that the only health-related role it has to play is transitioning from sugary drinks to naturally calorie-free beverages.

So, switch to water. Your body will thank you.

These Infused Waters Will Make You Forget About Soda
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Peggy Woodward, RDN
Peggy is a Senior Food Editor for Taste of Home. In addition to curating recipes, she writes articles, develops recipes and is our in-house nutrition expert. She studied dietetics at the University of Illinois and completed post-graduate studies at the Medical University of South Carolina to become a registered dietitian nutritionist. Peggy has nearly 20 years of experience in the industry. She’s a mom, a foodie and enjoys being active in her rural Wisconsin community.