Each day, more and more individuals work towards achieving a healthier lifestyle and managing their weight. As part of this effort, many are seeking alternatives to sugary drinks. Two popular choices gaining attention are diet soda and sparkling water. These alternatives provide a fizzy and refreshing option while aiming to help with weight loss goals.
In this exploration of diet soda vs sparkling water for weight loss, we will take a closer look at what they’re made of, how they might affect your body’s metabolism and hunger, and what it could mean for your overall health. By understanding the nuances of these options, you can make informed choices that align with your goals for achieving and maintaining a healthier weight.
What Is Diet Soda?
Diet soda is like a secret weapon for those who want to enjoy a fun and fizzy beverage while keeping an eye on their calorie intake.
Diet soft drinks have negligible or no sugar and calories, making them a preferable choice for soda enthusiasts and individuals managing diabetes compared to regular sodas1. For example, Diet Coke contains no calories, processed sugars, or high fructose corn syrup, unlike regular Coke. However, it’s important to avoid categorizing diet soda as inherently healthy.
There has been some debate and research about the potential effects of artificial sweeteners on health and metabolism.
Research suggests that daily consumption of diet sodas could increase the risk of stroke and heart attacks2.
Studies also link regular diet soda intake to a higher chance of developing metabolic syndrome and type-2 diabetes3.
Moreover, Purdue University’s research proposes that the abundance of artificial sweeteners in diet soda could lead to weight gain by disrupting the body’s calorie regulation based on sweetness perception4.
Aspartame, an artificial sweetener, has been associated with various health effects, including headaches, dizziness, and conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes5.
Analogously, regular cola is akin to carbonated water with added sugars, colorings, and synthetic flavors. While the caffeine in diet soda can provide a midday energy boost, the potential adverse effects might encourage choosing coffee instead to avoid these drawbacks.
What Is Sparkling Water?
Carbonated water comes in different forms like sparkling water, mineral water, and club soda.
Seltzer water, which is regular water infused with carbon dioxide and no added minerals, can also be called sparkling water but not mineral water or club soda. It’s available in plain and flavored varieties, with natural extracts providing flavor without extra carbs or calories.
Seltzer is appealing due to its lack of calories and low sodium, making it a suitable replacement for regular water to meet daily hydration goals. However, while embracing seltzer water’s benefits, a few important factors warrant consideration:
Contrary to concerns about carbonated water negatively impacting tooth enamel, research reveals that the mild carbonic acid generated by carbon dioxide within water isn’t potent enough to cause harm to teeth. In fact, carbonated water contains small amounts of calcium and minerals that shield enamel from acid. This sets it apart from soda, which contains phosphoric and citric acids that can erode enamel6.
In terms of health effects, studies show that people with indigestion and constipation found relief by consuming at least 1.5 liters of seltzer daily for 15-30 days, surpassing results seen with tap water7. However, those with irritable bowel syndrome might experience increased bloating, and individuals with acid reflux could experience worsened symptoms due to carbonated beverages8.
Diet Soda vs Sparkling Water For Weight Loss
When comparing diet soda and sparkling water in the context of weight loss, several important factors come into play.
The concern surrounding artificially sweetened diet sodas centers on the potential to trigger cravings for high-calorie foods, potentially offsetting the calorie reduction achieved by consuming zero-calorie sodas. Research even suggests that some artificial sweeteners, like aspartame, may harm the brain’s satiety signals in rodent studies9.
Human studies also contribute to a mixed body of evidence. While some research indicates a tendency for weight gain among individuals consuming artificially sweetened beverages10,11, other studies propose that these low-calorie alternatives can aid weight loss11. Further complicating this scenario is the concept of “reverse causation,” wherein something is mistaken as the cause of an event when it’s actually the result. This complexity confounds research, especially as individuals at risk of obesity might lean towards these drinks, leading to confusing outcomes.
Moving beyond weight concerns, artificial sweeteners raise other health considerations, including a potential link to certain cancers, cardiovascular problems, and kidney issues. However, the evidence for these associations remains inconclusive12.
Diet soda holds several attributes worth noting:
- Caloric Content – Diet soda contains little to no calories, making it an attractive option for those aiming to reduce their overall calorie intake.
- Sugar Replacement – Artificial sweeteners are used in diet soda to mimic the taste of regular soda without the added sugars, making it suitable for individuals looking to cut down on sugar consumption.
- Cravings – Diet soda can help satisfy the desire for sweet and carbonated beverages without the caloric impact of sugary drinks.
- Concerns – There are concerns regarding the potential health effects of artificial sweeteners. Some studies have suggested links between regular diet soda consumption and increased risks of conditions like stroke, heart attacks, metabolic syndrome, and type-2 diabetes. Artificial sweeteners might also affect appetite regulation and metabolism, potentially leading to unintended weight gain13.
Drinks containing carbonated water without artificial sweeteners have often been viewed as safe alternatives for those trying to quit regular soda consumption. However, a 2017 study14 on humans and rats has raised doubts about this approach.
In the rat portion of the study, male rats were given four types of drinks over a year: water, regular carbonated drink, flat carbonated drink, and diet carbonated drink. The regular carbonated drinks contained non-artificial sweeteners. The results revealed that rats consuming carbonated beverages (regular or diet) ate more food and gained weight faster than those drinking water or flat soda. The stomach tissue of rats exposed to carbonated beverages also exhibited higher levels of ghrelin, a hormone that controls hunger.
The human portion of the study involved 20 male students who consumed five different types of drinks over a month: water, regular soda, flat soda, diet soda, and carbonated water. Blood ghrelin levels were measured after each drink. Notably, the consumption of any carbonated beverage (regular soda, diet soda, or carbonated water) led to higher ghrelin levels compared to water or flat soda.
Though the study didn’t directly assess food intake or weight changes, the elevated ghrelin levels after carbonated beverage consumption suggest a potential link to increased hunger, higher food consumption, and weight gain. This result raises concerns about the effects of carbonated drinks on appetite and weight management.
Here are some benefits of sparkling water:
- Caloric Content – Sparkling water is calorie-free, making it an excellent choice for those aiming to minimize calorie consumption.
- Natural Flavors – Flavored sparkling water often contains natural extracts, providing a variety of tastes without adding extra carbohydrates or calories.
- Hydration – Sparkling water can contribute to daily hydration and can even stand in for plain water due to its refreshing nature.
- Digestive Benefits – Some individuals have reported digestive benefits from consuming sparkling water, including relief from indigestion and constipation.
It’s quite evident. If you’re in the mood for some effervescence, opt for sparkling water. While diet soda has no caloric content, it is rich in sugar and aspartame, which studies have associated with hampering weight loss and contributing to tooth decay. Although the pleasant taste of soda might be appealing, introducing a dash of fruit juice, honey, or agave syrup to sparkling water can offer a naturally flavorful, low-calorie alternative devoid of detrimental health consequences.
The choice between drinking sparkling water and diet soda for weight loss is multifaceted. Diet soda can provide a calorie-free alternative to regular soda but comes with potential health concerns related to artificial sweeteners. Sparkling water, while lacking calories and artificial additives, remains a more neutral option that can contribute to hydration and potentially offer mild digestive benefits.
Ultimately, considering these beverages for weight loss depends on your personal preferences and how your body responds to these beverages. Both options have their pros and cons, and what works best for you may require some experimentation. As always, it’s a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional if you have specific health concerns or goals before making any significant changes to your diet.
1 Gardener, H., Moon, Y., Rundek, T., Elkind, M. S., & Sacco, R. L. (2018). Diet Soda and Sugar-Sweetened Soda Consumption in Relation to Incident Diabetes in the Northern Manhattan Study. Current Developments in Nutrition, 2(5), nzy008. https://doi.org/10.1093/cdn/nzy008
2 Diet drinks linked to high risk of stroke, heart attacks | UW School of Public Health. (2019, February 14). https://sph.washington.edu/news-events/news/diet-drinks-linked-high-risk-stroke-heart-attacks
3 Nettleton, J. A., Lutsey, P. L., Wang, Y., Lima, J. A., Michos, E. D., & Jacobs, D. R. (2009). Diet Soda Intake and Risk of Incident Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Diabetes Care, 32(4), 688–694. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc08-1799
5 Czarnecka, K., Pilarz, A., Rogut, A., Maj, P., Szymańska, J., Olejnik, L., & Szymański, P. (2021). Aspartame—True or False? Narrative Review of Safety Analysis of General Use in Products. Nutrients, 13(6), 1957. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13061957
6 Ryu, H., Kim, Y., Heo, S., & Kim, S. (2018). Effect of carbonated water manufactured by a soda carbonator on etched or sealed enamel. Korean Journal of Orthodontics, 48(1), 48. https://doi.org/10.4041/kjod.2018.48.1.48
7 Cuomo, R., Grasso, R., Sarnelli, G., Capuano, G., Nicolai, E., Nardone, G., Pomponi, D., Budillon, G., & Ierardi, E. (2002). Effects of carbonated water on functional dyspepsia and constipation. European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 14(9), 991–999. https://doi.org/10.1097/00042737-200209000-00010
9 Eweis, D. S., Abed, F., & Stiban, J. (2017). Carbon dioxide in carbonated beverages induces ghrelin release and increased food consumption in male rats: Implications on the onset of obesity. Obesity Research & Clinical Practice, 11(5), 534–543. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.orcp.2017.02.001
10 Azad, M. B., Abou-Setta, A. M., Chauhan, B. F., Rabbani, R., Lys, J., Copstein, L., Mann, A. S., Jeyaraman, M. M., Reid, A., Fiander, M., MacKay, D., McGavock, J., Wicklow, B., & Zarychanski, R. (2017). Nonnutritive sweeteners and cardiometabolic health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 189(28), E929–E939. https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.161390
11 Fowler, S. P. (2016). Low-calorie sweetener use and energy balance: Results from experimental studies in animals, and large-scale prospective studies in humans. Physiology & Behavior, 164, 517–523. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2016.04.047
13 Crichton, G. E., Alkerwi, A., & Elias, M. F. (2015). Diet Soft Drink Consumption is Associated with the Metabolic Syndrome: A Two Sample Comparison. Nutrients, 7(5), 3569–3586. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu7053569
14 Eweis, D. S., Abed, F., & Stiban, J. (2017). Carbon dioxide in carbonated beverages induces ghrelin release and increased food consumption in male rats: Implications on the onset of obesity. Obesity Research & Clinical Practice, 11(5), 534–543. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.orcp.2017.02.001