by Caitlin Boyle
In choosing between calories and no calories, is one better for our health?
I have a Diet Dr. Pepper problem. It's a problem because, well, whenever I see a DDP (as I lovingly call it), I have to have it. If I didn't keep myself on a tight soda leash, I'd have it every day! Thankfully, I'm pretty good about drinking it in moderation, and I opt for it only once or twice a month.
I like DDP because of the taste, but I used to believe that diet soda was better for me than regular because it was sugar-free, which meant no calories and no blood sugar crash. How could anyone contest it? Diet soda was clearly the winner!
Turns out that what's better is really up for debate. Taste bud preferences aside, of course.
Regular soda is packed with sugar, which can trigger high blood pressure and increase your risk for heart disease. A regular can of soda has eight teaspoons of the stuff – well over the American Heart Association's recommendation of six teaspoons per day for women and approaching the AHA's limit for men, which is eight teaspoons. Real sugar means real calories, and drinking too many sodas can cause you to gain weight.
According to the government's most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, "Strong evidence shows that children and adolescents who consume more sugar-sweetened beverages have higher body weight compared to those who drink less, and moderate evidence also supports this relationship in adults."
Well, in that case, diet soda must be the better choice -- right?
Not so fast.
A University of Texas study found that the more diet soda people drink, the greater their risk of becoming overweight. Another study found that diet soda drinkers were at high risk for weight gain and symptoms of metabolic syndrome (a major risk factor for heart disease), such as increased belly fat and elevated blood sugar levels.
So, while people with diabetes might think the artificial sweetener gives them a green light to gulp to their heart's content, they should know that there are heart and blood sugar risks.
In addition, research suggests that diet soda -- but not regular soda -- may do a number on your kidneys. People who drank artificially sweetened soda had double the risk of kidney function decline.
The real problem with both regular and diet soda is that neither is good for you.
If sipped continuously throughout the day, either drink can cause serious tooth erosion as well. One researcher suggests that an excessive soda habit is as bad for oral health as a meth addiction. While that might be pushing it, dentists do see major mouth damage from drinking too much soda.
And if you're drinking a soda, you're not drinking a healthy beverage that provides your body with sustenance.
"Diet or regular soda is a choice between the lesser of two evils," says Kath Younger, a registered dietitian in Charlottesville, Va. "Regardless of which one you choose, having either kind of soda every now and then isn't likely to have negative health effects. But if you need bubbles daily, it's probably smarter to flavor seltzer water with a small amount of 100 percent fruit juice, a twist of lemon or lime or learn to love it plain."
Caitlin Boyle is a professional blogger, motivational speaker, and author of the book Healthy Tipping Point: A Powerful Program for a Stronger, Happier You. She helps her husband run a holistic health clinic in Charlotte, North Carolina.