Study links diet soda to weight gain

diet pepsi
CC BY 2.0 John Ashley

Researchers want people to stop obsessing over calorie counts and start considering the effects certain foods have on our bodies.

Forget diet soda. If you’re going to drink a soda, then you should drink a regular one. A new study from the National Institute on Aging and the National Institutes of Health in Baltimore, Maryland, has found that, contrary to what many people think, diet sodas are not conducive to weight loss. In fact, they make it more likely for a person to gain weight than if they were to drink ordinary soda.

The study analyzed data from 1,454 participants in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, collected between 1984 and 2012. After correcting for various lifestyle factors, including smoking, exercise, ethnicity, gender, diet, and diabetes, researchers found a correlation between body size measurements, obesity levels, and diet soda consumption.

From the study’s discussion:

“Two different measures of adiposity—obesity by BMI [Body Mass Index] and abdominal obesity by WC [Waist Circumference]—all showed chronic low-calorie sweeteners consumption was associated with increasing obesity, most noticeably abdominal obesity. These findings have important public health implication since the prevalence of abdominal obesity in the US continues to rise.”

So why does this happen? The researchers do not know exactly, but they offer a few thoughts. One is that artificial sweeteners may change the composition of gut flora, which can worsen glucose intolerance in the body and make one more prone to obesity. Another thought is that artificial sweeteners can actually make one eat more in order to feel full:

“Low-calorie sweeteners, with no caloric density, actually may cause the brain to abandon sweetness as a calorie gauge. Therefore, individuals who consume low-calorie sweeteners may compensate by over-eating in order to experience the expected satiety.”

The researchers emphasized the importance of understanding how certain types of food affect the body, instead of “merely considering the theoretical caloric content.” While diet soda (and other low-calorie diet sweeteners used in coffee, tea, and dessert) do have fewer calories and provide less energy, the fact that they may disrupt the natural functioning of the body and be “pro-obesogenic” is disturbing.

The study concludes:

“Low-calorie sweetener use is independently associated with heavier relative weight, a larger waist, and a higher prevalence and incidence of abdominal obesity suggesting that low-calorie sweetener use may not be an effective means of weight control.”

It’s best just to stay away from soda altogether, but if you must indulge, stick with the ‘real’ stuff.

Study links diet soda to weight gain
Researchers want people to stop obsessing over calorie counts and start considering the effects certain foods have on our bodies.

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