Is diet soda a weight-loss friend or foe? There’s no conclusive evidence identifying diet soda as a direct cause of weight-gain. But there’s a growing amount of evidence to suggest that it’s not an ideal beverage for weight loss.
If you want to lose weight, swapping out your high-calorie cola for the diet version might seem like a good idea, but it’s probably not. Consuming diet beverages can influence your health and your waistline in several surprising ways.
The Truth About Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are the most controversial ingredients in diet soda. The scientific community hasn’t produced conclusive proof that sweeteners like saccharin and aspartame contribute to obesity in any way, but there’s suspicion it does.
In 2004, researchers at Purdue University published several studies on how artificial sweeteners may disrupt the ability of the body to regulate energy intake.
- One study found that rats that drank non-caloric sweet beverages ate more calories than rats that drank sugar-sweetened beverages did.
- In a second study, rats were fed high-calorie chocolate pudding or chocolate milk with their regular food. The rats that sipped chocolate milk gained significantly more weight. That could be a sign the body can’t properly recognize energy delivered in liquid form.
- A later study added either saccharine- or sugar-sweetened yogurt to the rats’ food. Rats given yogurt sweetened with saccharin consumed more calories and gained more weight than their counterparts did.
These findings are certainly interesting, but they’re not conclusive because they were conducted on rats and were relatively small. Still, they hint that artificially sweetened beverages can derail weight loss efforts in humans.
Diet Soda and Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is the term used to describe a collection of conditions that increase risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. These conditions include: high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, excess belly fat and abnormal cholesterol levels.
Multiple observational research studies have found a correlation between diet soda consumption and metabolic syndrome.
- A study published by the American Heart Association observed over 9,000 individuals over a nine year period and found that those who drank artificially sweetened beverages had a 34% higher risk of developing metabolic disease.
- Researchers at the American Diabetes Association saw similar results in a 2009 study. They found that drinking diet soda increased the risk of developing metabolic disease by 36% and increased the occurrence of type II diabetes.
“Diet” Doesn’t Control Weight
It would seem logical that reaching for a zero calorie beverage would help you lose weight and keep trim. But research begs to differ. A study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that diet soda neither helps nor hinders weight loss. During the six month study, 318 individuals were split into three groups: a group that was asked to drink water in place of sugary soda, a group replaced sugary soda with diet drinks and a group made no changes to their habits. The researchers observed no outcome difference between the three groups.
Soda and a Poor Diet
Seems harmless, but research also found that overweight adults who drank diet soda tended to eat more total calories in a day. Many of these extra calories came in the form of salty or sugary snack foods. Experts speculate that diet soda drinkers may tend to pair the beverages with less healthy food choices. Losing weight and maintaining good health require that you eat a well balanced diet and exercise portion control.
The controversy surrounding diet soda is far from resolved. It may not cause you to gain weight, but it certainly won’t help you lose it.