measuring tape wrapped around soda can

Managing blood sugar levels is an everyday goal for people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. While eating sugar doesn’t cause either type of diabetes, keeping tabs on carbohydrate and sugar intake is an important part of managing the disease. Eating healthy can also reduce your risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is linked to obesity. In fact, obesity is one of the leading causes of type 2 diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of American adults are considered obese. Obesity puts you at risk for diabetes, as well as other troublesome conditions. Eating processed foods that are high in sugar, unhealthy fats, and empty calories increases your risk of gaining too much weight.

Drinking sugary drinks is also a risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. If you are working to keep your blood sugar in check or manage your weight, you might choose diet sodas. Low in calories and sugar, diet sodas appear to be a helpful alternative to sugary drinks. But how safe are they for people living with diabetes?

Harmful or Hazardous?

At one time there was much debate over the general safety of artificial sweeteners. Many feared these sweeteners caused certain types of cancer. Studies performed in the 1970s suggested that the artificial sweetener saccharin was linked to bladder cancer. Since that time, however, agencies and organizations have declared saccharin safe. Both the National Cancer Institute and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consider the sweetener nontoxic. Aspartame, another common yet controversial sweetener, has also gained clearance for use as a sugar replacement.

The FDA regulates artificial sweeteners as food additives. It reviews and approves artificial sweeteners before they can be sold. Some foods are “generally recognized as safe” and don’t require FDA approval to be sold. However, aspartame and saccharin, commonly found in diet sodas, are both FDA reviewed and approved.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) lists diet sodas among the drinks considered safe for people with diabetes. The ADA recommends them as an alternative to the non-diet varieties.

Understand the Risks

While diet soft drinks are safe, they are far from nutritious. In addition to diet soda, the ADA also recommends water, unsweetened iced or hot tea, and sparkling or infused water. Even milk and 100 percent fruit juices, although they contain carbohydrates, can be wise choices when you consider the nutrients they provide.

Carbonated colas also pose some risk to younger people. A 2000 study published in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine investigated the risks of colas in youth. The study found that drinking carbonated beverages was strongly associated with bone fractures in teenage girls. Although the same was not shown for boys, the study did raise concerns about long-term negative impacts of carbonated colas.

Diet sodas may also create issues specifically for people with diabetes. A study published in Nature found possible risks in diet sodas for people with diabetes. The study showed that, in mice, artificial sweeteners can lead to a spike in insulin. However, researchers noted that this isn’t likely to lead to dangerously low levels of blood sugar.

In the experiment, researchers discovered that artificial sweeteners can trigger sweet receptors in the stomach. This leads to an increase in insulin and lowered blood sugar. The stomach was essentially treating the artificial sweetener like real sugar, causing a spike in insulin. Researchers found this concerning but also said the spike in insulin wouldn’t likely cause clinical hypoglycemia, a risk for people with diabetes.

Sweet Rewards

Whether to lose weight or manage diabetes, making the choice to become proactive about weight loss and sugar intake is a positive step. If you’re ready make the leap toward better health, switching to diet soda may help you along the way.

Drinking a zero calorie beverage should not become a reason to make unhealthy food choices, though. Be mindful of your eating habits as well as your preferred drink of choice. This will help you better manage your weight and sugar intake.