Is Soda—Even Diet—Really Bad for You?

The myth: Soda is bad for you, even if it's diet. True or false? Mike Dawson has the answer.

1960 --- Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis drink from a bottle of Coke after playing a duet on the trombone and trumpet. --- Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

Photo: Corbis

On a recent unseasonably warm day in New York City, I, like many of my fellow cube farmers, headed outside to eat lunch in the sun. The park's tables were packed with slender, natty finance dudes digging into take-away salads, turkey sandwiches, and tortilla-less burrito bowls from Chipotle. What amazed me were all the Diet Coke cans studding this giant sea of otherwise healthy tabletops.

A quick and extremely unscientific survey of these gents revealed that these guys, like you, already knew regular and diet soda are packed with artificial crap, are bad for teeth, and lead to obesity and diabetes (yes, even the sugar-free stuff). So, WTF?

Not surprisingly, most were downing it for the caffeine to counteract post-lunch food coma. But after digging deeper, I learned that what most guys were really avoiding was an afternoon coffee, fearing the extra caffeine found in a cup of joe would do more harm than good.

So these guys chose Diet Coke because they thought it was healthier. [Cue palm-to-forehead slap.]

It isn't. Still.

Yes, a tall iced coffee from Starbucks can pack twice the jump juice as a can of Diet Coke, but it won't keep you up at night or increase your risk of hypertension or ulcers. (A single Illy espresso has about the same caffeine as 12 ounces of Diet Coke, FYI.)

With coffee you not only get the feel-good focus buzz—a 2004 study in the Journal of Nutrition argues the black stuff is one of the largest sources of life-extending antioxidants on the planet.

Soda, on the other hand, may provide a burst but only ups your risk for bad things. In fact, just this month, a 28-year study of 43,000 men found those who drank soda had a much higher risk of stroke than those who sipped coffee.

So be a (healthier) man and skip the soda. You know better.

— Dawson is a magazine writer and editor and a regular contributor to Details.

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