Which is better – diet or regular soda?

Deciding between diet soda and its full-calorie counterpart might seem like an easy way to cut calories, but many people watching their weight are confused.

Dietitian Mary Beth Robinson

Mary Beth Robinson

Numerous recent medical studies have warned about the dangers of diet soda. Recently, the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in France linked diet soda consumption in women to a higher risk for Type 2 diabetes.

But it’s not that simple, says Mary Beth Robinson, a dietitian with the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) Coastal Bend Health Education Center.

Diet beverages don’t cause people to develop Type 2 diabetes or gain weight. If the choice between the two fizzy beverages is isolated, diet soda is always a better choice.

“It’s absolutely better to drink diet soda than regular soda when it comes to watching your weight and managing blood sugar or controlling Type 2 diabetes,” Robinson says.

But, she notes there are hidden dangers with diet sodas that may cause the rash of warnings about them.

People who drink diet beverages tend to drink more of them than people who drink full-calorie sodas. A person who indulges in a soda once a day and drinks water otherwise isn’t consuming as much carbonation or caffeine as someone who drinks several diet beverages a day.

“People also tend to overconsume other sugary foods because they’ve chosen the diet soda,” Robinson says.

Picking between diet soda and sugar-sweetened beverages that have some nutritional value, such as orange juice or apple juice, can be a tougher choice, she says. It’s important to remember that a serving size for juice is just four ounces, which won’t be enough to quench most people’s daylong thirst.

Several studies also have established that artificial sweeteners can cause some people to crave more sugar. Sometimes, that triggers people to drink more diet sodas, or they eat sugary snacks instead.

“Treat a diet soda as you would a regular soda and just have one or two a day,” Robinson says. “It’s not a free pass to drink as many as you want. The bottom line is that water is always the best choice.”

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