You’ve decided to give up diet soda—good idea! Maybe you weren’t hitting your weight loss goals or couldn’t stomach that long list of ingredients anymore. Or perhaps you heard one too many times that it’s just not good for you.
Whatever the reason, eliminating diet soda from your diet will improve your health from head to toe. Research on diet soda is still in its infancy, but there’s enough out there to identify what you can look forward to when you put down the can and cool down with an unsweetened iced tea instead.
Migraines disappear and focus sharpens
It turns out the headaches you expected from a diet soda withdrawal didn’t materialize. And now that you’ve quit the stuff, you probably find yourself thinking clearly for the first time in a while. That’s because the chemicals that make up the artificial sweetener aspartame may have altered brain chemicals, nerve signals, and the brain’s reward system, which leads to headaches, anxiety, and insomnia, according to a review in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. And a 2013 animal study found that rats that drank diet soda had damaged cells and nerve endings in the cerebellum—the part of the brain responsible for motor skills.
Taste buds are more sensitive
It’s not your imagination: Without your usual diet soda chaser, you may find that food has more flavor. It has subtlety. It’s more enjoyable. That’s because the artificial sweeteners in your diet soda overwhelmed your taste buds with an onslaught of sweetness. Aspartame ranks 200 hundreds times sweeter than table sugar. Splenda (also known as sucralose)? 600 times. In fact, brain scans show that diet soda alters sweet receptors in the brain and prolongs sugar cravings rather than satisfies them. “We often see patients change snack choices when they give up diet soda,” says Heather Bainbridge, RD, from Columbia University Medical Center Weight Control Center. “Rather than needing sugary treats or something really salty like pretzels and chips, they reach for an apple and a piece of cheese. And, when they try diet soda again, they find it intolerably sweet.”
The scale finally goes the right way
While you may have started drinking diet soda to facilitate weight loss, quitting it may actually do the trick. A recent 9-year study found older adults who drank diet soda continued to pack on belly fat. The study piggybacks on research that found each daily diet soda increases your chance of becoming obese in the next decade by 65%, and a study published in Diabetes Care that found drinking diet soft drinks daily was associated with an increase in metabolic syndrome—obesity, high blood-pressure, high triglycerides—which leads to heart disease and diabetes.
Putting down the soda may be the best way to improve your bone strength and reduce your risk of fractures. One 2014 study found that each daily soda increased the chance of hip fracture by 14% for postmenopausal women. And another found that older women who drank cola had lower bone mineral density in their hips. The jury is still out on why soda has this effect, but the science pretty clearly suggests that a soda habit weakens your bones.
Your attitude towards food changes
Since diet sodas have no calories, people drinking them often feel it’s okay to indulge elsewhere, finds Bainbridge. Often she sees her diet soda–drinking patients make poor food choices, like a burger and fries, a piece of cake, or potato chips, because they think they can afford those extra calories. Plus, soda often accompanies unhealthy foods. “Sometimes those poor choices are built up habits,” she says. “You’re conditioned to have soda with chips, fries, or something sweet. When you eliminate the soft drink, you also break the junk food habit.”
You handle booze better
It’s a fact: Diet soda gets you drunk faster. When you mix it with alcohol, your stomach empties out faster than if you used regular soda, causing a drastic increase in blood alcohol concentrations, according to an Australian study in the American Journal of Medicine. And when you add caffeine, look out. Another study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Researchfound that bar patrons who mixed drinks with diet colas were intoxicated much more easily and frequently. (Here’s what alcohol does to your body.) Your best bet for a mixer? Club soda, which is naturally sugar- and calorie-free.
Fat storage and diabetes risk decreases
Our hormones may explain the great paradox of why people gain weight when they switch to diet soda. A study in Diabetes Care found that drinking two-thirds of a diet soda before eating primed the pancreas to release a lot of the fat-storing hormone insulin. When the pancreas is overworked from creating insulin to control blood sugar levels, diabetes rears its ugly head. And a recent study in Japan found that middle-aged men who drank 1 or more diet sodas daily were much more likely to develop type 2 diabetes over a 7-year period.
Kidney function improves
Now that your body no longer has to make sense of the unpronounceable ingredients in diet soda, your kidneys can get back to clearing toxins, stabilizing blood pressure, and absorbing minerals. One study looked at 11 years of data and found that women who drank 2 or more servings of diet soda doubled their chances of declining kidney function.