Diet soda: Not the best option, but not the worst

HANCOCK – Diet soda, particularly in small amounts, isn’t the worst thing a person can drink, but it’s not close to the best.

There are some benefits, particularly when the alternative is regular soda. The biggest is the immediate drop in calories. Diet sodas have none, compared to 150 for the typical 12-ounce can of regular soda. Some varieties are also fortified with vitamins and minerals. But it’s not a panacea.

“Short-term, yes you are saving those calories,” said Kelsae Eliszewski, a dietitian at Portage Health. “However, we still don’t have clear evidence that it’s really going to help prevent obesity or prevent other health concerns. The answer to weight loss is definitely not to just drink lots of diet soda.”

In fact, a person should be drinking no more than one can of diet soda per day, Eliszewski said.

“One can of diet soda a day is likely not to hurt you, but if you’re a person who consumes more than one a day, then that could definitely be negative to you,” she said. “Anything consumed in excess is going to be negative to the body.”

For healthier low-calorie options, they can try water, skim milk, unsweetened tea, unsweetened coffee or Crystal Light. FDA-approved sweeteners are Stevia, aspartame (the sweeteners used in diet soda), saccharin, sucralose and acesulfame-K.

Water should be people’s first beverage of choice, Eliszewski said – no calories, no artifical sweeteners and no sugar.

“I know a lot of people don’t like the flavor of water, but you can always sweeten it – I put lemons in my water every day, or cucumbers,” Eliszewski said, pointing to a tall container of water she had next to her with cucumbers floating inside.

Whether through water, tea or other beverages, one of the biggest health goals people should have is cutting down on sugar intake. The American Heart Association recommends no more than half a person’s discretionary calories come from added sugars. For the average woman, that’s about 100 calories, or six teaspoons. The average man has slightly more leeway at 150 calories (nine teaspoons).

That 12-ounce can of regular soda mentioned above? It contains 41 grams of sugar – about 10 teaspoons’ worth.

“The biggest thing we want to be doing is limiting how much sugar we’re having,” Eliszewski said.