By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Apr 05, 2024
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Alice! Health Promotion. "Do diet sodas spike insulin levels?." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 05 Apr. 2024, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/do-diet-sodas-spike-insulin-levels. Accessed 24, May. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2024, April 05). Do diet sodas spike insulin levels?. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/do-diet-sodas-spike-insulin-levels.

Dear Alice,

I have heard that the main reason why diet drinks, like a diet soda, can be bad on a diet, is that it can spike insulin levels and then your body expects sugar that it does not get. I have taken to the habit of only occasionally having diet drinks with meals, so that any increase in insulin is actually met with food in my system. My question is whether or not this is a good/workable strategy, or whether a diet soda is a diet soda no matter when you drink it and is therefore always a bad idea. Thank you for your time.

Dear Reader, 

Thinking about the ways certain additive ingredients can impact your body is a great practice. When it comes to diet sodas, what sets them apart from regular sodas is that they contain artificial sweeteners or sugar substitutes instead of regular sugar. Artificial sweeteners contain fewer calories, making diet soda a sweet-tasting alternative to sodas containing other forms of sugar. Despite the sweet flavor of artificial sweeteners, your body responds to them differently than sugar. The bulk of current research indicates that, unlike sugar, ingesting artificial sweeteners does not cause insulin level spikes. So, whether you decide to drink diet soda on its own or with a meal depends on your own preferences! To learn more about artificial sweeteners, insulin, and the effects of consuming diet sodas, keep reading! 

When comparing the ingredients of diet and regular sodas, the main difference is that regular sodas contain sugar and diet sodas don’t. Most of the other ingredients remain consistent between soda types. While diet sodas don’t contain regular sugar, they still contain large amounts of caffeine and a sweet flavor that may become addictive. They also contain high acid levels. Both soda options have high phosphate content and lack calcium, meaning that they typically have no nutritional value. Additionally, they’re not great for your teeth and can therefore contribute to dental erosion due to acidity levels. 

Let’s explore the difference between artificial sweeteners and regular sugar more. Artificial sweeteners—found in diet sodas—are synthetic sweeteners that contain zero-to-few calories. They often taste much sweeter than regular sugar, therefore, only a small amount is needed to add sweetness to foods and drinks. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides more information about the types of artificial sweeteners that have been approved for use in the United States. It’s worth noting that various types of artificial sweeteners carry some health risks. For example, while aspartame is deemed safe for consumption by the FDA, recent research suggests that it may cause cancer

One of the biggest differences between artificial sweeteners and regular sugar is that artificial sweeteners don’t impact blood sugar levels or cause spikes in insulin levels. The food you consume is broken down into blood sugar or glucose, which in turn signals the pancreas to produce insulin. Insulin regulates glucose levels and helps glucose enter the cells to be converted into energy or stored for later use. As you can imagine, sugary drinks like regular sodas raise blood sugar levels substantially, resulting in insulin spikes. Sugar substitutes on the other hand do not elevate blood sugar. This means that many artificial sweeteners are often safer to consume for those with diabetes, from a sugar or sweet tooth perspective. Since sugar substitutes don’t contain sugar, your body doesn’t increase insulin levels in response to them. All that to say, if you pair a diet soda with a meal, increased blood sugar levels and insulin would more likely be because of the food you’re eating, not the diet soda. 

While diet soda may not be associated with elevated insulin levels, it might be worth considering the health implications of its other ingredients. If you have further questions regarding your food or calorie intake, it’s advised to speak with a health care professional or a registered dietitian. Hopefully this has provided you with helpful information regarding the drinks you consume! 

Stay sweet, 

Additional Relevant Topics:

Nutrition and Physical Activity
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