Is too much Diet Coke bad for you?
November 29, 2008 1:50 PM   Subscribe

I drink 8-10 diet cokes per day. Should I quit?

Plenty of people tell me this is bad for me, but I can't find any evidence from reputable sources that prove this is true. Can you provide this evidence? I'm specfically looking for the exact ingredients that are bad (the caffeine, the artficial sweetener, etc.) and the negative effects.
posted by JPowers to Food & Drink (46 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Do a little reading about Aspertame and see how you feel.
posted by hermitosis at 1:56 PM on November 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

Caffeine Dependence (written for laypeople - from Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center)
posted by desjardins at 2:02 PM on November 29, 2008

The acid in Diet Soda can still decay your teeth even though there's no sugar.
posted by ALongDecember at 2:05 PM on November 29, 2008

Do a little reading about Aspertame and see how you feel.

But consider the sources carefully - there's more misinformation and hysterical exaggeration about aspartame than about almost any other topic (except maybe sodium laureth sulfate).

I drank 12 - 15 a day for a couple of years in my 20s. Aside from sleeping 4 hours a night, pacing up and down a lot and talking comically fast, I've seen no ill-effects.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:06 PM on November 29, 2008

8-10 is an awfully high amount. Plus with about 30-35 mg of caffeine, I'd be surprised if you didn't have a little bit of trouble sleeping sometimes. As for Aspartame, I haven't actually researched it because mainly I'm young and invincible, but I hear a lot of people aren't big fans of it. I'm at or about 2-3 diet cokes a day so the worries over it are less

edit: as I'm typing this I've done some research and take a look at this. it's pretty solid on explaining everything

Read pages 5-7 of that for the worries over Aspartame (brain tumors, epilepsy, cancer, reproductive/developmental worries). In essence, a few studies from different countries have concluded that Aspartame isn't the cause for all of these and at the very least the links to each are not very strong.

Well, I change my answer drink all the diet cokes you want. :) Although just for the general fact that your body needs water, I'd try subbing a couple of diet cokes for sparkling waters or drink mix packets into your regular water bottles. Odds are you'll feel better and you're helping your body clean itself out.
posted by isoman2kx at 2:08 PM on November 29, 2008

Aside from health issues, there is the cost to consider... this sounds like the equivalent of a pack-a-day smoking habit, depending on the price of cigarettes where you live. That ends up being quite a bundle of money over the long run.
posted by vernondalhart at 2:10 PM on November 29, 2008

You should try going off the stuff for a month, and compare how you feel then to how you feel now. I was also a big soda guzzler for a long time, but eventually weaned myself off of it because I was starting to get chubby. The caffeine DTs are not fun, but I felt much better drinking water.

Later, I returned to caffeine because I needed the "boost" to be sentient in the mornings, but I have found hot tea preferable for this purpose; I also need less caffeine to see an effect, since I am no longer deadening myself to it via almost-constant consumption.
posted by sonic meat machine at 2:19 PM on November 29, 2008

There's the research that shows that artificial sweeteners can lead to weight gain.

I have a diet soda once in a while, but if I drank it every day, I'd be worried about all the manufactured chemicals I was ingesting, but that's not science. (And I'd feel the same way about eating, say, Kraft mac and cheese every day.)
posted by Airhen at 2:33 PM on November 29, 2008

On just the caffeine issue

From here (the mayo clinic)

Though moderate caffeine intake isn't likely to cause harm, too much can noticeably affect your health. Heavy daily caffeine use — more than 500 to 600 mg a day, or about four to seven cups of coffee — can cause:

If you're not consuming any other caffeine - in their opinion you're ok as 8 cokes only have about 420 mg of caffeine.

Can't comment on the other issues though;
posted by jourman2 at 2:42 PM on November 29, 2008

Caffeine detox can be physically draining. Way worse than quitting smoking, in my experience.

Migraines and persistent muscle pain should be expected, some people get flu-like symptoms. If you're quitting and can't take a few days off from the world, you should try to wean yourself off of the Diet Coke. Try reducing your intake by 2 Cokes each week -- unless you're replacing Diet Coke with coffee or something.
posted by paperzach at 2:47 PM on November 29, 2008

Are you in good shape? Some studies show that drinking diet pop can make you fatter, because it somehow causes you to want to eat more.

If you're wondering how the caffeine affects you, you could try switching to a caffeine free version and see how that goes. That way you can test the caffeine effects without giving up pop.

The other thing to consider is Sodium, as diet pop's often have a lot of sodium. Diet Rite has none IIRC, and you might want to try that.
posted by delmoi at 3:07 PM on November 29, 2008

Even if it's not actively bad for you (which it probably is, looking through answers above) you're probably drinking it instead of drinks that are actually good for you - like plain water.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:20 PM on November 29, 2008

I also drink a lot of Diet Coke, and I don't have any serious side effects.

I do think it causes overactive bladder symptoms though. I organised a study about it, and you can read the results here.
posted by roofus at 3:22 PM on November 29, 2008

Diet coke, like most soft-drinks, is very acidic and drinking that much will do horrible things to your teeth. It eats away at the enamel, which ends up looking pretty bad but also causes all kinds of other problems.
posted by xchmp at 3:32 PM on November 29, 2008

There's been a study linking cola and kidney disease. Basically "People who drank two or more servings of cola daily were at 2.3-fold greater risk of kidney disease, the researchers found, and the risk was the same for both diet and sugar-sweetened cola. But people who drank two or more non-cola carbonated beverages daily were not at increased risk."

It is just one study which I usually don't get too worried about until it's been confirmed with other studies but if kidney disease or diabetes which cause kidney damage runs in your family, you might want to err on the side of caution.
posted by stray thoughts at 3:35 PM on November 29, 2008

nthing the teeth thing. Just quit. Reach for some tea if you miss the caffeine.

Academy of General Dentistry (2008, November 28). Drink Brewed Tea To Avoid Tooth Erosion, Study Suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 29, 2008, from­/releases/2008/11/081125132514.htm
posted by Theloupgarou at 3:47 PM on November 29, 2008

To answer your first question, it really depends. Do you want to be healthy? Do you want to save money on your dental bills? Do you want to prevent gaining several pounds a year? Do you want your body to be generally healthy? Perhaps prevent getting diabetes and hypertension? Do you want your sleep to be more refreshing and satisfactory? Do you want to stop your addiction to ridiculous amounts of sugar that -- considering the amount you are drinking every day -- are 10x or more the amount you're supposed to ingest in one day?

Then yes, for the love of bob, QUIT!!!!

As someone else noted, quit for a month and notice how you feel. I assure you that you won't go back.

Soda is one of the most useless foodstuffs of all time. It has absolutely no nutritional benefit. If you miss drinking sweet liquid, drink fruit juice (and not the stuff that's been pre-sweetened). If you miss drinking carbonated beverages, drink carbonated water. If you miss the caffeine, I'd recommend weaning yourself slowly off the soda so that it's not an issue. Warning: this can take time. Do not quit cold turkey!

Wikipedia has a section on the nutritional "controversies" surrounding soda. I don't even think the level of hard data you're seeking really makes a difference if you actually want to be healthy. If you want to be healthy, you'll eat healthy food that will nourish your body and you'll stay away from foods that lack nutritional benefits. Maybe that's not what you're looking for, though.
posted by Menomena at 4:30 PM on November 29, 2008

Bah, just realized you were talking about diet soda... Ignore my hate on sugar. My other comments on health still stand, though.
posted by Menomena at 4:31 PM on November 29, 2008

My uncle drank ten Diet Cokes a day and died of a brain tumor circa age 55.

(that said, I don't know how long he did that, and of course there are innumerable lurking factors. but, you know, still.)
posted by ewingpatriarch at 4:32 PM on November 29, 2008

n² on the teeth thing. I've been drinking a couple of Diet Pepsis a day for years, and am working on kicking the habit - my teeth were fine five years ago, and are really quite messed up now.
posted by hansfriedrich at 4:40 PM on November 29, 2008

Anecdote from Ms. Vegetable:

For about 6 months - 1 year, I drank several diet cokes a day. Maybe 3. I am very good about brushing and flossing and avoiding sticky foods, but at my next dentist visit, I had 5 cavities. She told me it was due to the diet coke.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 4:44 PM on November 29, 2008

I've looked into this, for similar reasons. My conclusions are as follows:

1. The dental problem is very real. Rather than quit, I now always use a straw. Not a perfect solution, but it allows more of the acidity to bypass my teeth.

2. The sweetener seems generally safe, BUT some people do have a health reaction (or perhaps intolerance or allergy) to it - and of those people, many don't realise it until after some random thing results in them not drinking the stuff for a while and they rapidly start to feel noticeably healthier.

So I suggest that it is likely worthwhile to stop for a while to find out (a) how difficult it is for you to go cold turkey, and (b) whether you start to feel better, and (c) whether you can find any substitutes that while not as awesome as soda, are not bad either.

If (a) and (b) raise no issues, then keep drinking if you like it, but drink with a straw, and also consider switching to decaffeinated diet drinks, because later down the track, you do NOT want to turn into one of those people that is dependant upon stimulants just to be able to function like an ordinary person, and with the amount that you're drinking, if those drinks are caffeinated, you may be running that risk.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:24 PM on November 29, 2008

I had to give up all forms of caffeine due to a sensitive bladder - caffeine definitely irritates the urinary tract and can leave you open for a UTI. This is more true for women, but anyone drinking 8-10 cups of a caffinated drink per day is at a much higher risk for UTI. Not life threatening, but absolutely no fun.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:46 PM on November 29, 2008

To avoid the aspartame, you can switch to the Diet Coke with Splenda variety. However, even that stuff still has all the other associated problems with Diet Coke -- tooth enamel troubles, phosphoric acid leaching the calcium from your bones, etc. From what I've read, the sweetener part of it is not the worst problem of diet soda -- it's really the phosphoric acid.
posted by oldtimey at 6:02 PM on November 29, 2008

As others have said, acidic drinks like pop and fruit juices can slowly and permanently damage your teeth. Trust me on this. (Are your teeth already looking a little more translucent at the biting edges than they used to? That's the permanent loss of enamel.)

If you want caffeine, drink tea.

You might want to go for something effervescent if that's what you crave. I'd stay away from club soda, which often has citric acid or sodium citrate. All carbonated drinks, including sparkling mineral waters, contain some carbonic acid. I've seen mixed reports on the value of carbonic acid: some sources say it's yet another way to erode your teeth, while other sources (typically healthy-faddy places selling their own tooth products) claim that carbonic acid breaks down harmlessly to CO2 and water, and that it actually helps remineralize your teeth. (Remineralizing helps strengthen your teeth, but it will not restore any lost enamel.) Hopefully someone else here knows more about that.

To minimize acid erosion, swish your mouth out with water after any acidic food or drink, but don't brush your teeth immediately, as brushing plus acid does even more damage. So you might try the occasional diet pop, sipping with a straw and/or rinsing afterwards, but 8-10 a day is just too much.
posted by rosemere at 6:07 PM on November 29, 2008

It sounds like you've gotten the information you are looking for, so I'll offer a testimony instead. After quitting consuming all caffeine, my prostate lets urine pass much more easily. Seriously, I went from squeezing it out to a holy vessel of effluvia. Beyond that, diet soft drinks make my arthritis worse and I am happy to be able to do all sorts of things in my daily routine without being woken up in the middle of the night from aching hands and elbows. Oh, I have less of an issue with tooth-ache turned headaches. I have 10% tooth loss on several teeth from years of violently brushing grooves into them. Caffeine really aggravated their sensitivity. I also suffered increased anxiety along with increased productivity, and the occasional mild panic attack to which I had become almost completely desensitized. I do miss the wild bursts of articulation I would enjoy in spirited discussions while caffeine surging. And the productivity with which I would write was superb, though while I am slower at writing now, I find myself more attuned to the nuances of the ideas I'm working with. Intellectual tasks take longer for me without caffeine, which in my line of work can be a bad thing, but I feel like I understand them better. I read better caffeine sober, though not as quickly. Really I quit because I was one of those caffeine dependent people for whom it was really beginning to look like I would suffer in the long run if I didn't manage my intake. I couldn't handle that, so eventually I had to quit cold turkey, which I've done a few times, but really am doing well at it now. Even 10mg will cause withdrawal symptoms for me though. I really can't have any caffeine whatsoever without discomfort and a risk of relapse. I don't mean to talk about it like it's an alcohol or opiate dependence, but sometimes I see it in those terms because it's so hard to quit and it was having cumulative adverse affects on my daily life.
posted by mrmojoflying at 7:06 PM on November 29, 2008

I'd recommend easing back to maybe 5 a day. 8-10 is a lot. Try keeping a bottle of water (or a thermos of herbal or decaf tea) at your desk. I'll bet you wind up drinking less soda because the water will be more convenient.
posted by zippy at 7:50 PM on November 29, 2008

The thing about aspartame/Diet Sodas is that they still don't know for sure if there are long-term effects from it. Someone suggested Splenda above, but they know even less about the long-term effects of Splenda consumption than they do about Aspartame, so it's not safer by any means. It's highly synthesized, and the "made from sugar" thing even had to be removed from the marketing after action was taken against the manufacturer.

In the line of work I'm in, I've learned that you may never know for sure (or in your lifetime) whether something is definitely going to have negative side-effects in the long term.

When making lifestyle choices that involve unknowns regarding food/drink, common sense is often the best way. It's generally a good rule of thumb that less-processed foods and drinks are more likely to be good and not bad for you than those that are more processed. As in, we've been able to study the effects of consuming those types of foods and drinks for much, much longer than products that have only been around for a few decades, with formulas that change somewhat regularly.

Water, tea, and juice are known not to be harmful for you, and in most cases (if you don't sweeten them excessively) are good for you. Diet Coke is not good for you, and may even be bad for you. If it is bad for you, drinking that many a day is certainly not good. It is definitely bad for your teeth. That's one thing we know pretty much for sure.

Drinking less Diet Coke would certainly not be bad for you. But since you asked for sources, here's a study about how aspartame can affect the brain on the cellular level and might increase risk of certain mental disorders. This isn't the same study, but I remember when I was in high school my psych teacher talking about a family friend who was doing research into the effects of aspartame on the permeability of the blood-brain barrier.
posted by fructose at 8:04 PM on November 29, 2008

if it really gives you great pleasure, why not? that said, why drink the Cr#$?
posted by dougiedd at 8:06 PM on November 29, 2008

By the way, if you're drinking that many 12-oz cans, you're drinking 96-120 oz per day of Diet Coke. You don't even need to drink that much water in a day.
posted by fructose at 8:07 PM on November 29, 2008

I drank 12 - 15 a day for a couple of years in my 20s. Aside from sleeping 4 hours a night, pacing up and down a lot and talking comically fast, I've seen no ill-effects.

This kind of "answer" is of no value at all. It's like saying, "I walked through traffic dodging cars for 4 years and never got hurt." Are we to assume that you think that nobody will ever be hurt walking across a busy street while dodging cars? I see this often on AskMe and it baffles me that anybody would think others would find such "answers" helpful.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 8:18 PM on November 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

Fructose, that paper you cite is bizarre and highly questionable. If aspartame caused the kind of neurotransmitter effects it is claiming, it would get you high or at least be seriously psychoactive-- no caffeine needed. It contains no original research at all and many of the citations are equally sketchy.
posted by Maias at 8:44 PM on November 29, 2008

At $0.50 a can you're spending something like $1,500 a year on Diet Coke. ($0.50 per x 9 a day x 365 days). Depending on where and how you buy it you could be spending close to $5K.

Regardless of the health issues, I'd bet you could find a better way to use $1500 a year.
posted by Ookseer at 9:11 PM on November 29, 2008

just for the record, i've always had a ton of cavities. just crappily formed teeth. thanks parents.

and my dentist told me i could ONLY have diet soda. no regular. because it causes cavities.

so, that's my two cents on the dentistry thing.
posted by dithmer at 9:28 PM on November 29, 2008

that much diet coke makes for a lot of sodium. if you are young and healthy it's probably not a big deal, but could lead to higher blood pressure later on. also, the acid is not great for the teeth, and consuming that much caffeine is a little rough on the kidneys, since it is a diuretic. finally, there are studies that show caffeine can cause your blood sugar to crash, actually, which can be unpleasant. also, in order to consume that many drinks in a day, you probably have one or two of them close to bedtime, which can interfere with your quality of sleep.

taper down for a month, then go for a month with only one caffeinated beverage in the morning, and see how you feel. drink water when you're thirsty. you'll probably notice a difference.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:31 PM on November 29, 2008

I agree with Ookseer; the money you're wasting on eight to ten cans or bottles of soda a day should be enough for you to at least cut down on your Diet Coke intake.

Plus, that's gotta wreak havoc on your stomach, right?
posted by Third at 10:47 PM on November 29, 2008

Sounds weird, maybe, but flavoured sparkling bottled water or Orangina might help wean you off diet coke. You'll have the same fizzy feeling in your mouth and the same sort of carbonation sounds and associations. It isn't an absolute solution (you'll need to wean off the fizzy water, too), but it's a halfway or starting point. It helped me to kick the diet coke habit - I was a daily 7-11 DoubleGulper, myself. Just switch to the fizzy water, then wean yourself off of that gradually.

Detecting a bit of judgement here for our "cokehead" that might be a bit unjustified. If you're working 13 hr days in an office with a crusty coffee maker, no kettle to boil water for tea, and a microwave that defies description, the vending machine is the only option for some sort of liquid kickstart... or a break, even!
posted by Grrlscout at 12:27 AM on November 30, 2008

JPowers, 8 - 10 diet sodas a day sounds a bit excessive, for all the reasons others have enumerated (though my teeth are fine, thanks very much, per my dentist just this week). My husband and I decided to operate on the "moderation in all things" theory, and cut our diet soda consumption back (slowly) to maybe 1 or 2 a day. We replaced with water, and (mostly) unsweetened tea, either hot tea or iced tea. There are many many tea varieties and options out there these days. I bring tea that I make myself to work in a stainless steel thermos. Note that some companies, like Honest Tea, as just one example, make some good (and unsweetened or barely sweetened) bottled iced tea that is way beyond dreck like Nestea in quality and flavor. As Grrlscout says, you can use the fizzy water as a way to wean yourself off the diet soda, though again we still drink soda and fizzy water a bit, especially on really hot summer days.
posted by gudrun at 1:32 AM on November 30, 2008

I drink a lot of Diet Coke as well and am always on the lookout for this same kind of info. I'll let someone else tackle the effect it may have on teeth, but with regard to aspartame, given the hysteria that surrounds it, I would be extremely discerning on what information that you give credence to.

Here is an article from the Mayo Clinic.

Here is a newsletter from John Hopkins University (pdf).

Here is a fact sheet from the National Cancer Institute. More on artificial sweeteners in general.

Here is the FDA Statement on Aspartame

The American Dietetic Association

The UK's Food Standards Agency

Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Food
(European Commission, pdf)

A synopsis by the BBC, which reports on the European Food Safety Authority's decision.

You are going to find a lot of conflicting information out there on this subject, which is why is so important to determine the general trustworthiness of the source.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:35 AM on November 30, 2008 [3 favorites]

I used to drink a LOT of diet coke. Easily in the quantities mentioned here. Maybe 2 2-litre bottles a day? Who counted? It was cheap and lo-cal. I do not have a strong caffeine response.

I stopped cold after reading some of Andrew Weil's writings. He answers a question on it here.

I don't think he is unnecessarily alarmist, but his book "Eight Weeks to Optimum Health" made me reconsider a lot of the foods I took for granted.

I stopped drinking diet soft drinks, and with rare exception all soft drinks a decade or so ago. If I want a fizzy drink, I drink sparkling water. I won't let my kids drink diet soft drinks either. Why take chances? Better they drink regular soft drinks in moderation, with sucrose better than corn syrup base.
posted by sagwalla at 8:41 AM on November 30, 2008

Woah, this thread's received a lot of solid advice since I replied a while back.

I just want to thoroughly debunk the cavity myth though, that's a complete (pardon my french) load of crap. Who gets cavities from soda? It's called brushing your teeth. Does anyone do that here? lol. I've had approximately ZERO cavities and ZERO cavities from soda, diet soda, etc. That sounds like an old wives tale to stop drinking soda.

Carry on.
posted by isoman2kx at 8:47 AM on November 30, 2008

I find that much caffeine results in my having less overall energy than no caffeine at all.

So you could possibly increase your energy levels by quitting.
posted by curious_yellow at 3:14 PM on November 30, 2008

posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:32 PM on November 30, 2008

I cut way, way back on my caffeine a few years ago. I've gotten to the point where I prefer water in most cases. One thing that can help is using those little flavor tubes (like Crystal Light On the Go) in your water if you need some flavor. After a few months I even quit using those. I've also noticed on the days I drink more water, I eat less. Giving up the pop, or even just cutting back, isn't a bad thing.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:59 PM on November 30, 2008

There's also the increased possibility of developing osteoporosis down the road. Like others have mentioned, you'd be wise to offset your cola intake with a balance of more healthy beverages if not only for the health benefit, but the financial ones also!
I used to start my day with a huge soda from the local 7-11. When I realized I was seriously addicted to having that every morning, I quit. Now the only time I drink a caffienated soda is if I need relief from a pounding migraine. It does seem to help in that regard.
Good luck!
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 1:25 PM on December 1, 2008

There is absolutely NO health risk in cutting it down to 1 or 2 cans of Diet Coke, and replacing it with water. Most tap water is the US is totally safe. No environmental bad things from transporting it, as opposed to soda, which his packaged and shipped. Water is good for you.
posted by theora55 at 3:34 PM on December 1, 2008

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