Whether you’re at a restaurant, a vending machine, or looking through your fridge, you may have found yourself stumped between making the decision of regular or diet soda. If you’re on the road to eating and drinking healthier, you may think diet soda is healthier for you because it has zero calories.

Our bodies rely on natural sugars from fruits and dairy products to function properly. However, there are different types of sugars that react differently with your body. There are natural sugars, such as the glucose your body produces and fructose, which comes from fruit and honey. There are also processed sugars that are combined or changed to create “complex sugars.” One example is sucrose, which is a combination of fructose and glucose.

An average can of pop contains 15-to-18 teaspoons of sugar, which roughly equals to 240 calories. This refined sugar has a fast rate of metabolism, which means it breaks down faster into glucose and fructose. But refined sugar has little nutritional value so it does not make you feel full. High levels of glucose and fructose cause insulin to increase and blood sugar levels to rise, which causes a risk for diabetes. If your body doesn’t use the energy, this sugar can turn into fat, be absorbed into your liver, and could lead to obesity.

To avoid these refined sugars, people believe they escape the health risks when they drink diet pop. Some studies show the opposite of this—diet pop causes weight gain instead of weight loss. According to an article in The Washington Post, a team of researchers from the University of Manitoba reviewed studies that researched the long-term effects of sugar substitutes over time. They found that not only were sugar substitutes unreliable for weight management, but the people that drank them had a higher body mass index and were at a greater risk for cardiovascular disease.

Regular diet soda consumption could also contribute to other diseases. Some researchers have found an association between artificially sweetened drink consumption and the proliferation of type 2 diabetes. One 2013 study from Global Public Health evaluated the relationship between the availability of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and the prevalence of diabetes within a country. With the use of published resources, the researchers found that countries who use HFCS in their food supply have a 20 per cent higher diabetes prevalence than countries who do not use HFCS.

A longitudinal study from the University of Miami found possible connections between diet soda consumption and heart attacks. Researchers followed 2,465 participants over nine years as the participants documented the types of beverages they drank. Researchers found that the group who consumed diet pop were 48 per cent more likely to have a heart attack than those who rarely drank pop.

Regular pop can also cause dental corrosion. Sugar often leaves residue on the teeth and contributes to the growth of dental plaque. Diet soda does not directly contribute to dental corrosion due to lack of sugar. However, it does contain acid which can remove enamel from the teeth. This makes your teeth more vulnerable to cavities.

The potential health risks of regular or diet pop should urge us to moderate our consumption of artificially sweetened drinks, such as coke, Gatorade, and concentrated fruit juices. We can replace them with natural sugars, like fresh fruits, that can be used to make homemade smoothies and juices.

Soda consumption has an even greater effect on the human body because people now live very sedentary lives. It’s important to exercise and burn the calories that come with the sugar off so your body will not store them as body fat; this can prevent obesity. With a focus on finding food with natural and unprocessed sugars, along with monitoring how much we consume, soda can be a great treat.  However, long-term consumption of soda, whether diet or regular, may cause severe complications in the future.

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