The obvious answer is: neither. Drink water. Drink tea. Yadda yadda…
For most people that answer is not good enough. They aren’t going to make the switch to water, at least not completely. They need their fizzy sweetness. Yes, they know better. And yet…
They want to choose the lesser of 2 evils.
So what shall it be?
A soft drink loaded with sugars (high fructose corn syrup) OR the chemicals in a diet drink?
What you need to know:
To answer the question, let’s start with the basics. Here’s the ingredient list for Coke:
Carbonated Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Caramel Color, Phosphoric Acid, Natural Flavors, Caffeine.
One serving – an 8 ounce cup – has 100 calories, all from the 26 grams of sugar (6.5 teaspoons). Liquid candy.
Here’s Diet Coke’s ingredient list (we’ve underlined ingredients shared with regular Coke):
Carbonated Water, Caramel Color, Aspartame, Phosphoric Acid, Potassium Benzoate (to Protect Taste), Natural Flavors, Citric Acid, Caffeine.
Diet Coke has zero calories thanks to the magic of aspartame, an artificial sweetener that has been linked in some (but not the majority of) studies to various cancers and neurological problems.
An additional ingredient of questionable benefit is potassium benzoate, closely related to sodium benzoate which Coke had been using until 2 years ago.
Both sodas contain phosphoric acid, that may contribute to the leaching of calcium from bones and osteoporosis.
Both sodas contain caramel color, which is a natural food coloring, and caffeine, which is a natural upper. The natural flavors they both contain include Coke’s secret formula, responsible for the Coke taste.
OK, we’ve gone through the nutrition panel. Now, which is better for me?
Had artificial sweeteners been found 100% safe, without any side effects, the answer would be Diet Coke, which saves us 100 calories per cup.
- The human body body gets confused by artificial sweeteners to the point of impeding weight loss plans
- Diet drinks “Infantilize” the taste sense to the point where naturally sweet foods like apples don’t seem seem sweet enough
- Long term health effects unclear.
Self professed Diet Coke junkie and nutrition expert Elisa Zied, MS, RD writes:
Emerging research … suggests links between increased diet soda intake and metabolic syndrome (a cluster of symptoms that increase the risk for heart disease), kidney problems, preterm delivery, weaker bones, and other adverse health effects. read more..
So, there is no 100% guarantee that sweet tasting diet drinks are safe and can be part of a healthy diet.
What to do at the supermarket:
OK, you’ve been patient and read through all this post. Here’s the bottom line (at least ours):
If you are a healthy adult but trying to keep the pounds off, 2 to 3 cups of regular soda per week, counted as a treat, won’t put a huge dent in your calorie balance. If you drink substantially more soft drinks, try to cut down. If you can’t reduce the amount consumed, consider diet soda.
If you are a healthy adult but actively on a diet – really, do yourself a favor and hydrate with water only. Having said that, diet soda can fill a void for your sweet cravings, without affecting your calorie count. Remember that diet drinks may actually be counterproductive due to the infantalized taste buds explained above. And the cancer stuff too.
If you are a parent to a growing child – keep them away from artificially sweetened drinks. The younger they are, the easier it will be to move them to a mostly water routine. For example – at home water is the only beverage.
If you are diabetic, pre-diabetic, or have another medical conditions - soft drinks are one of the first things you should eliminate from your diet. But you have much more on your “plate” than just this matter. Your best bet is to consult with a registered dietitian.
Lastly, we reiterate our usual advice – skip the soft drink aisle and eliminate soda pop of any kind from your hydration routine . It’s the healthiest choice for your body, the planet, and your pocketbook. We admit, this advice is beginning to sound like a broken record…
Hope this makes some sense. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts.