By Larissa Phillips

For decades, diet sodas have offered consumers a free pass: the sweet effervescence of a soda, for the inviting price of zero calories. But how truly free is that pass?

Researchers have known for a few years that diet soda can be linked to weight gain, but a new study has shown that people who drank one or more diet sodas each day developed the same risks for heart disease and diabetes as those who drank regular sodas. The results are based on a massive, multigenerational heart study in Framingham, Mass., which was funded by the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Although a direct causal link has not been established between diet soda and heart disease, it is a somewhat shocking piece of evidence that there is little difference between drinking diet sodas and regular sodas, when considering a person's health. As one expert said, "There's really no way to safely eat junk food."

It is, however, one more reason to choose the ultimate beverage: cool, clean water.

Healthy Alternatives To Diet Soda: 

- Infused Water: Try new versions of flavored water with your favorite fruits, like pomegranate, citrus zest, and berries. Get a little more exotic by adding freshly sliced cucumber, mint sprigs, and pineapple. A splash of cranberry or pomegranate juice will add tangy flavor, too. 

- Caffiene-free & herbal teas: There are tons of teas on the market that are caffiene free and boast high antioxidant levels. Herbal teas featuring chamomile, rose hips, fruit bits, and other caffiene-free goodies are great for kids (and adults!) who want to kick the soda habit. Try an herbal peach tea and see how it stacks up to your favorite soda.

Larissa Phillips is an award-winning writer, cooking instructor and food writer for Dominion Parenting Media.