There’s no questioning the appeal of reduced or zero calorie drinks, but are diet drinks actually better for you?
When it comes to cutting calories, diet drinks are definitely the way to go because by definition a diet drink is a calorie-reduced or calorie-free beverage. If you consume five 8-ounce cans of sugary soda per week, switching to diet soda can saves you over 500 calories a week, which equates to about a 10-pound weight loss in a year! If you are overweight, simply making this change will help you shed pounds while also lowering your risk for diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
However, don’t assume a drink labeled as “diet” is a health drink or that diet beverages don’t cause weight gain. A recent University of Texas study found that people who consumed two or more diet sodas a day had a six-times-greater increase in waist circumference over a 10 year period than people who didn’t drink any diet soda. Although scientists are not exactly sure why, one theory is that calorie-free sweeteners interfere with signals to the brain that tell us when we are full. Another theory is that the nonnutritive sweeteners used in diet drinks actually trigger sugar cravings the same way sugar does. Sugar cravings are a setup to high-calorie snacking and inevitable weight gain.
Chronic consumption of carbonated beverages can also increase the risk of osteoporosis because phosphoric acid and phosphorous, two main ingredients in diet sodas, have been shown to leech calcium from our bones. These ingredients are not present in club soda or seltzer, however.
The bottom line on diet drinks: Go easy, which means you can enjoy up to four 8-ounce servings per week. Keep in mind that there are a variety of low and no-calorie alternatives to diet soda out there starting with water … which is satisfying in its pure state and tasty when infused with natural flavor, such as slices of lemon, lime, oranges, cucumber, or even a few shavings of ginger root.
Another way to jazz up water is to use a water enhancer mix such as Crystal Light Pure Fitness, which has no artificial sweeteners, flavors, or preservatives. The powdered mixture contains cane sugar and Truvia, a stevia-based natural sweetener, and one-serving mixed with 8 ounces of water imparts a bold fruity taste with only 15 calories, 3g of sugar and carbohydrates, and plenty of electrolytes to help you rehydrate. If you are on the go, try a bottled, flavored still water such as Dasani Lemon.
There are other low and no-cal ways to drink up:
Zevia is an all-natural soda that gives you the fizz of a carbonated drink and sweetness from Reb A, commercially known as Stevia, a naturally sweet botanical leaf whose extract produces a zero-calorie sweetener that is about 100 times sweeter than sugar, but it does not prompt sugar cravings.
If iced tea is more up your alley, try Snapple’s Diet Green Tea. It tastes as sweet as the full-sugar version without any calories. This satisfying tea is sweetened with sucralose, more commonly known as Splenda, which is made from real, but molecularly altered sugar that is intensely sweet, but free of calories. The green tea in Snapple’s Diet Green Tea has 51mg of polyphenols, which are potent antioxidants that may help boost metabolism.
Most bottled sparkling waters don’t use diet sweeteners and many brands are infused with natural flavors such as peach, blackberry, watermelon and strawberry-kiwi that add zero calories. However, check the label before you buy because some brands of fizzy waters do contain sugar or flavors that add calories. Or make your own! is a soda maker that makes carbonated water and soft drinks in a snap.
Metromint has peppermint-flavored water that may sound unusual, but it’s actually very refreshing! The flavor in the water comes from real mint extract, not artificial sweeteners.
Ocean Spray has a line of sugar-free powdered drinks that contain only five calories per pack – perfect for flavoring a glass or bottle of water.
Cocktails made with sugary mixers can be ultra-high in calories. Go with a sugar-free mixer such as Baja Bob’s sugar-free margarita, mojito, or no-sugar added piña colada mix, and you’ll avoid those empty extra calories.