Last month, I started my day over coffee with a friend whose mother-in-law was visiting from out of town. To survive (her words not mine!) she was drinking a beer, or two, each night. Her mother-in-law was making snide remarks about drinking alcohol every night, while drinking upwards of 8-10 diet sodas a day. Knowing that diet sodas give me severe headaches, halitosis and fatigue — and yes, I still drink them, but just 1-2 a week, I wondered what a nutritionist would say about the nutrition values of a beer vs. a diet soda.
I enlisted the help of Anna Bruckmann, a Registered and Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist with a Certification in Oncology Nutrition (RD, LDN, CSO) living, working and cooking around the Nashville area with a private practice as a Delicious Dietitian. She earned her B.S. in dietetics and nutrition at The University of Alabama.
StyleBlueprint: Which one is the healthier option – beer or Diet Coke?
Anna: That’s a loaded question if you ask me! As a registered dietitian, I would have to say that it is a personal preference depending on each individual’s nutritional needs so needless to say there is much to consider. Do you want to cut back on calories or are you more concerned about the ingredients?
The key is to know your individual nutritional needs and educating yourself on the foods and beverages you choose to put into your body. I’ll give you the nutritional background on each so that you can be educated on making the right choice for you!
Let’s start with beer:
Studies show that the ethanol in beer and other alcoholic beverages, in moderation (2 servings for men and 1 serving for women a day, 1 serving = 12 oz of beer, 4 ounce wine), is associated with some health benefits. Benefits include reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke, lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes and improved brain function. Beer has higher water content and a diuretic effect that is associated with decreased risk of kidney stones; it also contains several B vitamins, some fiber, magnesium, calcium, and the antioxidant selenium.
However, heavy alcohol consumption wipes all the health benefits and can create serious health problems such as increased risk of stroke, chronic hypertension, weight gain, colon, and breast cancer. You also don’t get a sense of fullness with liquid calories that can lead to mindless eating. One 12-ounce serving of beer contains a whooping 150 calories, so if you know you are going to be tempted with lots of food when drinking beer than consider switching over to a light beer that and always drink in moderation. Remember 1 pound equals to 3500 calories, calories in equals calories out!
What about diet soda?
Yes, it’s calorie free and gets its sweet flavor from the nonnutritive sweetener called Aspartame (some diet sodas contain Sucralose, also known as Splenda), which is, were the health concerns are being raised. The results of research have been mixed even though these sugar substitutes have been labeled as safe. However, because sweeteners have not existed for a very long time (unlike beer), the research is limited on the long-term effects. Some studies show no health risk and some indicate that sugar substitutes increase the risk of a variety of diseases, including some cancers.
From a weight loss prospective, the research has again produced mixed results. As mentioned before regarding beer, liquid calories don’t give us the same sense of fullness as food calories. Beverages may make us feel full, but we don’t eat less food throughout the day because we drink more liquid calories and we end up eating the same amount of food throughout the day and continue to desire sweet foods to feel satisfied. Research has also shown that if you replace sugar-sweetened drinks with diet drinks containing no calories, you will lose weight but only about one-half as much as you would if you’d switched to water instead.
As you can see, there are many sides to consider when choosing a beer versus a diet coke. A good rule of thumb is to drink both in moderation.
For some more reading material on the subject of diet sodas, see: