Diet soda has few, if any, calories. So it may seem like a healthier, waist-shrinking alternative to regular soda. But our nutrition experts tell a different story.
“People who drink diet sodas daily have a higher rate of obesity than those who don’t,” says Stephanie Maxson, senior clinical dietitian in MD Anderson's Integrative Medicine Center. And being obese increases your risk for breast (after menopause), colon, endometrial, kidney and pancreatic cancers.
How could a drink with so few calories contribute to weight gain? Research shows that diet beverage drinkers consume significantly more calories from food than regular soda drinkers. These extra food calories can add up to a higher number on your bathroom scale.
In addition, some studies indicate sugar substitutes like aspartame, sucralose and saccharin, which are commonly found in diet drinks, can throw off your body’s natural metabolic processes. Disrupting these processes could cause your body to store fat instead of burning it, and may increase your risks for diabetes and heart disease.
And, that’s not all. “Some artificial sweeteners are several hundred times sweeter than sugar,” explains Clare McKindley, a clinical dietitian in MD Anderson’s Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center. “These ultra-sweet additives may create changes in your body and brain that increase the appeal of other similarly sweet foods.” And because you think you’re cutting calories by drinking a diet soda, you may feel justified indulging these cravings.
“Plus, some preliminary evidence suggests artificial sweeteners may increase your risk for certain cancers,” Maxson says. This includes urinary and bladder cancers.
“That’s not to say regular soda is better for you,” Maxson adds. Both types of soda contain artificial ingredients and chemicals. “They might be affecting our health or cancer risks in ways we don’t yet know about,” she says.
Put simply, the less soda you drink, the better. That goes for both diet and regular soda. Here, Maxson and McKindley share ways that you can kick your soda habit, for good.
Don’t keep sodas in your home
“Having soda close at hand, such as in your home refrigerator, is just too big a temptation,” Maxson says. Instead, stock your home fridge or pantry with healthier options or opt for water.
In addition, be sure you don’t have singles or change for the office vending machine. “The more effort it takes to indulge your soda habit, the easier it will be to resist,” Maxson says.
Drink more water
Instead of reaching for a soda, pour a glass of water or sparkling water. Fluid helps your body get rid of toxins that put you at risk for diseases like cancer. And water has zero calories — meaning it’s one of the healthiest ways for you to stay hydrated. You should drink at least 64 ounces, which is about eight to 10 glasses, of water each day.
Need more flavor? Infuse your water with fruits or vegetables. “Put berries or cucumber into a pitcher of water and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight,” Maxson says. “That will give your water flavor without any unnatural additives.”
Other healthy alternatives to diet beverages and soda include unsweetened coffee and unsweetened tea.
Change your soda habits
Your brain develops cravings based on your habits. If you always have a soda at lunch or in the afternoon, that’s when your brain will want it most. So, mix things up.
- Take a walk.
- Choose a healthier drink option.
- Grab a sweet, guilt-free snack, like carrot sticks or apple slices.
- Call a friend or ask a coworker for support.
“Changing when and how you drink sodas can make them easier to resist and help curb your cravings,” McKindley says. Plus, physical activity can provide the energy you may get from sodas.
Avoid other sweetened beverages
“Flavored coffee drinks, sweetened teas or fruit juices, energy drinks and most bottled beverages contain a lot of the same unhealthy additives that are in soda,” Maxson says. So, drinking other sweetened beverages isn’t a healthier option.
The bottom line: if you consume any kind of soda, try to drink the smallest amount possible. And remember, avoiding soda altogether is your healthiest move.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 877-632-6789.