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Do you have a dirty little dietary secret? And is it called Diet Coke?

Diet Coke not healthy

For lots of healthy types, the frequently stated fact that Diet Coke might be “empty calories” actually goes down just fine compared to office cupcakes, which they’re not regularly scarfing.

And reaching for a diet soda fits nicely into the “allowable-exceptions” category of a healthy New York lifestyle. You know, along with a glass of Sancerre, the occasional dinner at Eataly, and watching the Real Housewives.

But should you allow Diet Coke a free pass? (Ditto: Housewives.)

stylish woman drinking Diet Coke

Studies abound that caution against drinking diet soda

While sipping diet soda seems harmless, especially in the context of a generally healthy life, a surprising number of substantial studies show the opposite, that drinking Diet Coke and Aspartame can greatly interfere with your health.

As Dr. Helen Hazuda, professor of medicine at University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, found last year, “[Diet soda] may be free of calories, but not of consequences.” And she wasn’t talking about the caffeine.

Interpreting the data of two studies, Dr. Hazuda pointed out that it caused a blood sugar spike in mice, and suggested that diet sodas may inhibit the signal that tells you when you’re full. 

Here are 6 more reasons to give up diet soda:  

1. It messes with your skin. Diet Coke lowers your pH levels, which can cause acne, and zap you of radiance. We need a high level of alkalinity for our bodies to be healthy and expressed in our glowing complexion, explains Dr. Jeanette Graf, author of Stop Aging, Start Living: The Revolutionary 2-Week pH Diet. As Dr. Graf told us recently, “If there’s one thing you should never consume, it’s soda. Soda is an extreme acid-forming substance which will lower your pH level dramatically.”

2. It alters your mood. The mood-food connection is ever-rising, and Aspartame in Diet Coke can really do a doozey on those with anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. Aspartame is also on an EPA list of potentially dangerous chemicals contributing to neurotoxicity, right under Arsenic. So that’s kind of saying it could alter your brain, too.

3. Weight gain and belly fat. Ironically, we actually gain weight from Diet Coke. In two studies conducted by the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio, those “who said they consumed two or more diet sodas a day, experienced waist circumference increases that were 500 percent greater than those of non-users.

4. It causes diabetes and heart disease. When waist circumference (belly fat) increases, this contributes to diabetes and heart disease, which a 2010 study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine confirmed.

5. It makes your kidneys sluggish. Diet soda may interfere with the kidneys, found the Harvard Nurse’s Study, which reported a 30% drop in kidney function with just two servings of diet soda each day.

6. Aspartame’s been linked to cancer. A lot. Aspartame is “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA while substantial data has shown its link to cancer. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) cautions against Aspartame because it’s poorly tested, and contains three well-recognized neurotoxins. Aspartame was found to increase cancer risk if exposure begins in the womb, reported a study at the Cesare Maltoni Cancer Research Center. And various studies have linked lymphoma and tumors in rats. And beware the BPA of cans and caramel coloring, reports Grist.

Kind of takes the fizz out of it, right?

Do the best experiment out there—the one on your own body. We dare you to lower your soda intake for a week and see if you notice any changes in skin, weight, or mood. Report back in the Comments! Jennifer Kass and Melisse Gelula

More Reading

6 ways to hydrate better
Coconut water: Should you keep drinking it
Are sugar substitutes hiding in your food?

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  1. July 31st, 2012 at 10:54 am

    I can attest to this. Recently my local grocery store did a buy 2 get 2 free so I got 4 cases of diet soda. Within a week I felt different and didn’t know why. Into my second week I noticed my gut was significantly larger… ick…

  2. July 31st, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    Diet Mountain Dewer: Awesome you were able to acknowledge the connection and save yourself from more damage! I think a sparkling water with a splash of juice is a great way to transition from the habit and the bubbles in a less harmful way. Next stop: lots of fresh lemon water for alkalinity–the best cleansing, weight loss tool.

  3. July 31st, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    I took the challenge in 2009, after drinking 3lt of diet coke a day my colleague told me i should stop drinking it. I did for one month drink anything else but soda’s. After this month i tried a can of diet coke again, and was seriously on the verge of throwing up. Neeldess to say i never touched that stuff again.

  4. July 31st, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    I don’t drink a ton of diet soda, but more than I should. I have since quit on the suggestion of a friend and feel so much better! I was a big coke zero and diet coke fan. Now I think it’s gross!

  5. July 31st, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    i drink it occasionally – any at all is more than i should be having! i don’t know if i actually notice any difference when i’m drinking it or not but i’m sure there are subtle things and i know it’s terrible long term. it’s odd how so many of us “healthy eaters” have this vice.

  6. August 1st, 2012 at 12:48 am

    Wow finally a advice backs up what I have been stating for years. Who would have thought that you would actually consider drinking this anyway.

    Great story and well done well+good.

    Let me know if I can post this on our BLOG soon as it is great.

  7. August 1st, 2012 at 10:46 am

    could not agree more. see my views from last year: http://iamyoustudio.tumblr.com/post/6589376611/dietcoke

  8. August 1st, 2012 at 10:56 am

    I gave up diet soda 2 years ago. I took a sip of my cousin’s recently and it tasted like chemicals. It also felt like it was burning the inside of my mouth. How is that enjoyable?

  9. August 1st, 2012 at 11:09 am

    Such a great article. I drank Diet Coke years ago in college and haven’t touched it since! So scary and gross. Love this article; thank you for sharing, ladies! Great work, as always!
    xo

  10. August 1st, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Diet soda is also dangerous because it pulls the calcium out of your bloodstream to bond with it’s phosphates. Basically, it causes brittleness in your bones which can increase likelihood of breaks as well as other calcium deficiency issues. I preach all the time about how terrible soda is, but I probably drink at least 1 12oz can per day of regular/diet soda.

  11. August 1st, 2012 at 11:43 am

    It has not been proven that pH affects acne or that diet coke contributes to acne. I am not saing that this is not true but there is no convincing scientific evidence.

  12. August 1st, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    I believe in everything IN MODERATION. What sort of dosages were people consuming in this article? I’ve been an insulin-dependent diabetic since age 11 and consume a moderate amount of Splenda, aspartame, etc. My skin glows, I have tons of energy, I stay positive and have NONE of the issues listed above. It’s a suitable sugar-alternative for me; IN MODERATION.

  13. August 1st, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    Dear Jennifer and Melisse, please think again, just for a few seconds and with a bit of imagination, about this bit “Two servings or more a day increases waistline by 500%”. How would that look? If no bell rings, please check the source. ;o)

  14. August 1st, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    The number is huge and hard to believe, I know. From the San Antonio Longitudinal Study: “Diet soft drink users, as a group, experienced 70 percent greater increases in waist circumference compared with non-users. Frequent users, who said they consumed two or more diet sodas a day, experienced waist circumference increases that were 500 percent greater than those of non-users.” http://bit.ly/R7Qd3I

  15. August 1st, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    Your comment here is very different from what the article states…..

    Waistline GROWTH increases 500%, not the waistline itself.

  16. August 1st, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    Ah, yes indeed. Thank you for being awesome copy editors. Clarification noted, correction made.

  17. August 1st, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    Totally agree with you, Well+Good! In fact the authors of the article did state that “frequent diet soda users” had a 500% increase in their waistline compared to the non users, over the 10 years or so that the data was recorded. But how can we say that diet soda is the cause of that weight gain? It can be anything else! It might just be that people in that group ate more calories overall from other food and/or exercised less, which makes sense as people who eat too much would try to “compensate” for their over-eating by drinking diet soda, which is not sufficient for preventing them from gaining weight anyway. There is no way that diet soda could make you gain weight since it contains no calories! Jennifer and Melisse, please be critical about what you read before drawing such foolish conclusions. I’m not saying that diet soda is healthy, but it is definitely not a weight-gainer!

  18. August 1st, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    So true, there is nothing natural in it. Drinking diet coke is drinking a cocktail of chemicals.

  19. August 1st, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    I can’t drink that crap. Not the regular, not the diet. Totally messes up my whole system. I take that as a signal NOT to do it! :)

  20. August 2nd, 2012 at 4:27 am

    Personally, regular soda will always taste better than diet ones. You don’t get the certain “kick” regular ones pack with them.

    Ed

  21. August 3rd, 2012 at 11:03 am

    I used to be disgustingly addicted to Coke Zero. I basically had it with every meal. One day I just decided to quit it cold turkey and I never looked back! I feel like it is hard to just have addictive drinks / foods in moderation. For me, it’s all or nothing or it’ll never happen!

  22. August 28th, 2012 at 10:41 am

    @superfit4life, while the weight gain might not be from calories, there’s no way to guarantee that the chemicals/coloring/etc. in diet sodas don’t mess with your metabolism enough to cause weight gain.

  23. September 7th, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    I’m not sure if people just misread it the first time or if the article has been updated about the 500% increase. But just to clarify for anyone confused. It says “increases that were 500% greater that non users.” That means that 2 people who would have been comparable at the beginning of the study (with all of the adjustments mentioned in the study) were measured at the end of the study. The non diet soda drinker could have gained just one inch while the diet soda drinker gained 5 inches. That would be a 500% greater increase.

  24. September 7th, 2012 at 10:30 pm

    I drink Diet Coke all day every day and almost nothing else. I have no mood or skin issues. The only time I have ever gained weight is from being pregnant and I never had belly fat problems before having babies. I tried to quit once for a month, but only made it 8 days while craving it constantly. It is my one and only vice and I have basically decided that since I have to die from something then death by Diet Coke it is!

  25. September 10th, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    Aspartame waa originally a laundry product.
    At 90degrees it turns into a gas used by undertakers to perserve bodies. It was approved by the single vote of the head of the government program after three attempts failed. He then went to work for the company that produces it. It was suspected to cause the disease that struck so many of our soldiers in the
    Iraq war.

  26. September 11th, 2012 at 12:34 am

    I am 59 y/o. I have sever obesity, insulin resistance, urinary incontinence and heart disease. I drank 3-4 12 ounce servings of Diet Coke and Caffeine-Free Diet Coke since I was about 15 y/o. You all figure it out. The more I drank of it the more I wanted chocolate candy, cakes and cookies. I believe this article. I gave it up and within weeks my incontinence improved. I now eat whole foods only. I have given up artificial sweeteners and feel much better. If you haven’t give it up now before you are my age. I constantly wish I could go back knowing what I know now and be healthier.

  27. September 26th, 2012 at 6:47 am

    Since reading this on July 31st I have been completely diet coke free. This is a HUGE feat as I have been a rampant diet coke drinker for years. Thank you for putting it so simply!

  28. October 3rd, 2012 at 9:34 am

    So I get that you shouldn’t drink diet soda, but where are the suggestions on how to replace it? I switched two weeks ago to drinking the sugar free white tea from Quik Trip, but I haven’t noticed any difference in weight. Does that contain aspartame? How can you find out these things. Thanks

  29. October 22nd, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    I have tried to tell people that diet soda is harmful because of the aspartame, but in general, they don’t listen. I have a neighbor who is 90 and drinks diet Dr. Pepper (she has probably been drinking it for years); she has a long list of serious health problems. I have tried telling her that diet soda is harmful, but she won’t listen.

    I am grateful that you are telling the truth by having written your article; there are other websites that say there is no harm in drinking a couple of cans of diet soda every day!

  30. December 3rd, 2012 at 5:28 am

    I needed to hear this re: diet coke. I am goig to tray and stop. As for the weight gain, I dont like drinking my diet sodas by themselves so i eat chips, crackers, whatever I can find to go with my diet coke! It makes me feel bloated, I feel edgy, crabby and bloated…..I am going to try and drink tea!

  31. December 8th, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    I drink a TON of diet soda. And i know its bad i just can’t seem to get unhooked. I am not overweight but i could loose a few pounds and look much better. I guess i try to sub in some OJ. Anyway, the Diet Dr.Pepper has to go :/

  32. December 10th, 2012 at 9:44 pm

    This one is a heart breaker, but I MUST write the for you to read. I had never imagined how connected Diet Coke was to cancer.
    I met a woman last year, in the hospital, after she broke her leg. Ordinary discussion between us made me aware that she was going through chemotherapy and when I asked her where the cancer was, she said ‘Everywhere.’ Turned out later it was in her lungs (never smoked) in her panacreas, lymphoma, kidneys and liver. They were aggressively treating her with chemotherapy and radiation because she was 47 years old.
    She had broken her leg when she slipped on her way to the fridge after one of these aggressive chemotherapy treatments.
    While her bones were healing she could not do the chemotherapy and the tumors increased in size.
    The only thing that she can think of that might be related was: Diet Coke.
    She drank it from morning (first drink after brushing her teeth) and she did not eat breakfast. Therefore, by noon she had had 3-4 cans of Diet Coke on an empty stomach. She had more at lunch…ate extra because she was hungry…and then all afternoon, and with dinner.
    She reported that she had between 8-10 cans of Diet Coke each day.
    Weekends, even more as she had them all day and all night while others drank water and coffee.
    She died in June 2012; 7 months after I met her. She had been diagnosed about 6 months before I met her…so 13 months between diagnosis and death.

  33. December 11th, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    Yes, must have been the diet coke??

    You people are coo-coo to believe this article.

  34. February 9th, 2013 at 12:42 am

    I hate when people post articles without any evidence to back their claims.
    Note to readers- if you check the american cancer institute or american academy of nutrition and dietetics you can find evidenced based information on sweetners/soda.
    Having said that, moderation to everything is the key.

  35. February 12th, 2013 at 11:23 am

    I never drink more then maybe a can a day of diet coke, is this still a real bad thing ??

  36. February 21st, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    Funny that I stumbled across this. When I initially tried a healthier lifestyle/diet I switched to Diet sodas. I noticed two things within the first week & I didn’t even drink that much. 1) I seemed to become hungrier, esp for sweet, when I drank diet drinks. This didn’t help what I was trying to do. And 2) I began to get migraines frequently. My doc suggested to eliminate aaspartame & whaddya know, the migraines & major cravings significantly reduced. This time around, if I splurge, its on real soda and sweets…

  37. February 26th, 2013 at 1:12 am

    I have been a diet soda drinker for 33 years and at the age of 55 I can say I look far better than my contemporaries. The only thing I have noticed is that my energy levels do drop slightly with over consumption of diet soda. One saving grace may be that I add lemon juice to my sodas as it is reputed to alkalize it. I know, an acid that alkalizes? True dat!

  38. April 6th, 2013 at 10:23 am

    It drives me crazy when someone says. Everything in moderation. What is moderation. Once a day. Once a week. A month.? We can not see what is happening inside our bodies. We all have cancer cells. We have no idea when tumors are developing. I can’t control everything that happens around me. What I breath in etc. But I can control what I use on my body and what goes in my mouth. Considering that 1 in 3 people are diagnosed with cancer, and 1 in 3 with diabetes. I don’t think there is a lot of moderation happening. Do you?
    Linda Murphy
    Registered Holistic Nutritionist

  39. Chloe Chase
    June 11th, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    Sodas become a daily staple drink for most people. Moderation is not the answer. You have replace sodas and similar drinks with water. The evidence that sodas, including diet sodas, are very bad for you is overwhelming and the benefits of drinking water several times a day are well documented.

  40. June 14th, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    First time on your site and this was the first article I read. Very true, diet drinks with Aspartame are NO GOOD! Just STOP drinking that stuff people! And do not feed it to your kids! And I even wrote my own blog entry about it early this morning.

    http://www.fargosisters.com/serendipity/archives/1795-Snack.html

  41. June 19th, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    Wow! This post convinced me to stop drinking my long-time favorite drink. Goodbye Diet Coke and hello to a healthy life! ;-)

  42. June 27th, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    Thanks for making this article. I’m now convinced to give up my dirty little dietary secret. I am so motivated! Thanks a lot!

  43. June 27th, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    We like it because of the “diet” label, but it’s so bad for you. A stopped drinking a few years ago and could tell the difference in a few weeks.

  44. J. Ward
    June 28th, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    Totally agree with this article as I have had to give up the diet coke because I did notice that it affected my moods.

    When I went off it I felt so much better and also lost weight.

    I wasn’t aware of fact 6 -”Aspartame’s been linked to cancer”. I would have given it up just for this alone.

    J

  45. July 20th, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    Has anyone noticed how most of the products with “diet” on the label, is replacing calories with unfortunate ingredients?
    Seriously, except raw, organic, actual produces – when did you see a truly healthy “diet” choice?

  46. November 26th, 2013 at 9:08 am

    I had breast cancer last year!! At 43, many family members commented that my diet soda consumption may be to blame! Tests revealed that I carry the BRCA gene(think Angelina ).. I asked my oncologist, plastic surgeon, blood specialist, and family doctor, who all confirmed that my diet DP habit did not cause cancer!! Moderation is key!! It was the only thing I could keep down after chemo! For that, I am thankful!! Blessings!

  47. January 10th, 2014 at 10:05 am

    For the past 13 years I have had what appears to be bipolar disorder. For the past 25 years, I drank up to 2L a day of diet coke. A friend convinced me to give it up cold turkey. Since then (about 3 months ago) I simply stopped having the depression. I still have normal human emotions but I no longer have extreme depression.

  48. January 10th, 2014 at 10:43 am

    Firstly I recommend people give up diet coke ASAP. Its not easy. This is a serious addiction.
    I have been addicted to diet coke for 25 years……I have been gaining weight for 25 years. In the last 3 years I have experienced some very strange health issues….lots of headaches, dizziness, a general fogginess, slurred speech, forgetfulness, unable to finish sentences and small seizures….more recently numbness in my arms, hands, legs and feet……I put a lot of this down to the beginning of menopause….THEN about six weeks ago I experienced a symptom I just could not ignore. When I woke up in the night I could not open my right eye…..no residue…not infection in that eye whatsoever….my brain would send the command to open eyes…left would respond, and open….right eye would not…I thought I was having a stroke….I did all the normal stroke checks and it was apparent that this was not a stroke….it happened every night from then on…sometimes once a night…up to three times a night. On the fifth day I am considering going to a neurologist….but googled this symptom first….found out through a lot of reading that this could be a side effect of aspartame poisoning…this was the evidence I needed….I HAD to go cold turkey to save myself…..After just 3 weeks of giving up diet coke these symptoms vanished….headaches, fogginess, forgetfulness, small seizures, slurred speech, all numbness…I still have difficulty finishing sentences…but the frequency has changed. The eye incident has happened just 3 times in three weeks and I am hoping that these symptoms also subside as the aspartame that is stored in my fat slowly diminishes. I recognize that I have a long journey ahead…but I AM LOSING WEIGHT…..but advised to not lose it too quickly as the aspartame will be released into my system too quickly…..If you have gained weight since being addicted to coke…give it up…use other caffeine drinks like tea and coffee..(no artificial sweeteners though!!!) I hope this helps you…..please change your life and give up diet coke and anything with aspartame …where ever it is hiding…..

  49. March 13th, 2014 at 4:23 pm

    This is most distressing. As a middle aged woman watching my weight and a strong diabetic family history, what can I drink that is good for me. PLEASE don’t say water. Yuck!

  50. March 14th, 2014 at 8:02 am

    As a Type 1 diabetic, I am already very limited in what I eat or drink. I love my diet coke! I don’t agree with this article except that it does affect your kidneys. I have had several kidney stones and when I had them analyzed, it was from a by-product of the carbonation. (They had no idea I drank any type of soda.) Regardless, moderation is the key to anything. I don’t drink much water and of course juices are out. I truly believe that quality of life is more important than quantity.

  51. April 10th, 2014 at 11:54 pm

    23years been addicted to diet coke. Even woke up threw the nite
    Craving the stuff. 6-8 16ozes Dailey sometimes more. Now I can barely get three the day with severe fatigue migraines ear noises skin prob
    Belly fat can’t lose weight even been to weightless clinics. I watched
    Video on wymt hazard ky. The results will make u nausious from the side affects of this. 2 days no diet coke I’m already seeing a little hope
    I have been chronically ill for about three years. Hope this helps someone kick the addiction

  52. April 25th, 2014 at 7:59 pm

    I have been drinking diet coke for years….years. I am five foot three, and 160 lbs. I do not have high b.p., cholesterol, or cancer or anything else. I drink more than the “2 cans” that will drastically alter your life. As a matter of fact I drink on average 4-6 2-liters daily….DAILY. I am not overweight, depressed, or any of the other crap listed in this article. When I mean years, I mean 14 years, religiously have always had diet coke. I have a yearly physical for work I always pass, other than cigarettes, diet soda has not affected me in anyway, for years. Always a clean bill of health, so explain to me this please, if it’s so bad for you than why do I not experience any of your symptoms?

  53. July 8th, 2014 at 1:38 am

    It is interesting to me to read all of these comments about Diet Coke because I can relate to almost all of them. I started drinking diet sodas as soon as they came on the market in the 80′s. Eventually Diet Coke became my drink of choice and I started drinking it every day in 1984. Over the years there were key times that I tried to stop drinking it, and I actually did give it up when I was pregnant and when I did the Atkins diet for a while. I always went back to it, and it really is addictive. Finally, in 2013, I was diagnosed with a 9cm. fibroid tumor on my ovary, which had to be removed. Three months later I quit drinking Diet Coke and have not gone back to it. It has been 14 months now since I quit. I tasted it last week and it tasted terrible to me. I have gained 25 pounds. I’m not sure if it is related to just the Diet Coke or to also losing an ovary which affected my hormones. After quitting the Diet Coke I noticed that the white coating that was always on my tongue went away. Also I can taste food in a way that I never could before. I also always had a cough and a tightness in my chest, which have both gone away. I feel like I can take a deeper breath all the way down into my lungs. I don’t know if Diet Coke caused my fibroid tumor, or encouraged its growth, but I know that Diet Coke is addictive, and I have often suspected that all of the chemicals were not good for me. I drink a lot of carbonated seltzer water now and more coffee and tea.

  54. October 8th, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    I have been trying to get rid of my acne im 36 yrs old I love drinking diet dr pepper can that causes my acne I tried everything even doctors I slow eating chocolate I need to try cut back on my ddp I know its hard to do onces u hook that’s it I have acne on my face and chest back and on my shoulders tried everything plzzzzz help me if u can I even tried over conoer med don’t work thanks?

  55. October 25th, 2014 at 8:16 am

    I love articles that include science into their line of reasoning. I had no idea aspartame contained neurotoxins! This will definitely change the way I think about soda.

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