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Diet Soda v.s. Regular Soda, Which One is Better?

Yiwen Lu, MS, RD
November 19, 2023
December 8, 2023

The soda aisle at the grocery store presents a familiar dilemma: Should you grab a diet soda or opt for the regular version? Both offer a fizzy, refreshing indulgence, but beneath the bubbles lie critical differences in taste, calorie content, and impact on your health. Is there a clear winner? Let’s compare them across 5 key aspects.

1. Caloric Content

The caloric chasm between diet and regular soda is striking. A typical 12-ounce can of regular soda boasts about 140 calories, primarily from added sugars. Contrastingly, diet soda contains almost no calories due to artificial sweeteners.These sugar alternatives mimic sugar's sweetness withoutthe caloric burden. For those who want to be mindful of caloric intake, diet soda seems like the logical choice.

2. Brain Response

It's not just calories – our brain has its input too! Regular soda's sugar triggers a feel-good response in our brain, a reaction that harks back through time. But here comes the twist with diet soda: even though it's calorie-free, the artificial sugars still fool our brain into thinking it's rewarding. Quite crafty, isn't it? But here's the real deal: our body doesn't actually get any calories from it. This can actually intensify our desire for more food, particularly those loaded with calories. It's like a showdown between taste and truth in our brain. In this case, diet soda might actually have a more negative long-term impact.

3. Cravings and Taste Sensation

The picture from FDA displays how sweeteners' sweetness levels stack up against regular sugar.

As you can see, these sweeteners pack a punch, ranging from 200 to 20,000 times sweeter than sugar, depending on what you're sipping on. However, this intense sweetness can inadvertently steer taste preferences. Regular soda's moderate sweetness is natural, but diet soda's concentrated sweetness can influence taste buds, making naturally sweet foods seem bland and driving cravings for richer, heavier tastes. Coupled with brain response, it's like a vicious cycle leading us to constantly crave heavier tastes and more calorie-dense foods.

4. Insulin Response

Insulin response refers to how the body reacts to changes in blood sugar levels by releasing insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. When you consume food, especially carbohydrates, your blood sugar levels increase. Now, let’s delve into how this plays out with regular soda versus diet soda. When you have regular soda, your blood sugar spikes, and insulin rushes to manage it. However, this roller-coaster can lead to long-term issues, like insulin resistance. On the other hand, diet soda, thanks to its non-sugar sweeteners, doesn’t cause this immediate spike. Yet, some studies suggest that these "fake sugars" might still impact insulin sensitivity. More research is required to fully understand this connection.

5. Long-Term Impact

Think about the lasting impact on your health – the effects that stick with you over time. Regular soda's sugar content has been connected to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. The artificial sweeteners in diet soda come with their own worries. Some concerns include ongoing debates about how they affect weight, gut health, and whether they might cause cancer.


When it all boils down , the question to consider is, “Is regular soda better than diet soda?”  If you're looking for my input as a dietitian, I'd tell you that there isn't a clear winner – I wouldn't go for either, honestly. Ideally, avoiding soda altogether is the way to go. But if you're really in the mood for it, have it in small amounts. When it comes to picking drinks, water is always the best option. If water feels a bit plain to you, think about herbal teas or infused sparkling water. And of course, don't forget to keep yourself hydrated!

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