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Diet Soda: Not a Quick Fix for Weight Loss

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“Just for the taste of it” has been the slogan for Diet Coke, the most popular diet beverage on the market, since the 1980s. The idea was to promote a great-tasting drink without all the calories of regular soda. But new research released in June 2011 links diet soda with weight gain and rising blood sugar levels.

Epidemiologists from the School of Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio presented their work at the recent American Diabetes Association meeting. They found diet soda consumption actually leads to larger waistlines. Another related study in mice showed that aspartame—a prevalent artificial sweetener used in diet sodas—helps raise blood sugar levels in mice predisposed to develop diabetes.

“Data from this and other prospective studies suggest that the promotion of diet sodas and artificial sweeteners as healthy alternatives may be ill-advised,” Helen P. Hazuda, Ph.D., professor and chief of the Division of Clinical Epidemiology in the School of Medicine, said in a statement. “They may be free of calories, but not of consequences.”

The Health Science Center team assessed data from 474 participants in the San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging, or SALSA. This large, population-based study is looking at the disablement process in elderly Mexican Americans and European Americans.

Diet soft drink consumers experienced 70 percent greater increases in waist circumference compared to non-users. Frequent users, people who consumed two or more diet sodas per day, experienced a 500 percent greater increase in waist circumference than those of non-users.

Abdominal fat is a major risk factor for chronic conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

“These results suggest that, amidst the national drive to reduce consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks, policies that would promote the consumption of diet soft drinks may have unintended deleterious effects,” the authors wrote.

In the other study, scientists examined the relationship between oral exposure to aspartame and fasting glucose and insulin levels in 40 diabetes-prone mice. The results suggest that heavy aspartame exposure can contribute to increased blood glucose levels.

These are the latest studies looking at the relationship between diet sodas and health. Earlier in June, a U.K. study suggested that sugary drinks dull taste buds, which causes consumers to crave more sweets.

“If artificially sweetened sodas increase your cravings, the calories they take out of your diet are apt to sneak back in later when you, for instance, need a larger or sweeter dessert to feel satisfied,” Dr. David L. Katz said on Oprah.com.

To enjoy a bubbly drink without extra sugar or artificial sweeteners, try sparkling water with a fresh slice of lemon or lime.

Suzanne Boothby is a Brooklyn-based wellness writer, certified health coach and co-founder of New York Family Wellness. Visit www.suzanneboothby.com to learn more.


UT Health Science Center

Can Diet Soda Cause Weight Gain?

Reviewed July 6, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Kate Kunkel

Add a Comment3 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Breaking news: epidemiologists from the School of Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio don't understand the relationship between correlation and causation.

July 12, 2011 - 7:09pm
EmpowHER Guest

As a diabetes educator, it’s imperative that I stay up-to-date on the latest diet and health science. What concerns me with the studies referenced in this article, is that that there is no mention of overall lifestyle – diet or exercise. These studies are quick to point at soda or aspartame as a source for our health concerns, but in reality weight gain or obesity is a multi-factorial issue. Amount of physical activity, eating patterns, genetics, socio-economic status, race/ethnicity -- they all play key roles in weight management. It’s also important to recognize that associating soda consumption with increased waist size does not prove causation and that animal studies don’t necessarily mean the results apply to humans. I am constantly educating my patients and clients, including food/beverage companies like Coca-Cola, on moderation as the most realistic and long-term way to maintain a healthy weight. People can have their favorite foods, like soda or chocolate, as long as they balance such treats with physical activity and have an overall healthy diet!

July 10, 2011 - 10:28am
EmpowHER Guest

OK but did they compare diet soda vs. normal soda? Are they claiming that it's the diet soda that causes weight gain (e.g, was there a difference in the calories eaten by the two groups?) From the study, it doesn't look like that was the case. If the people who drink diet soda also happen to be the type of people who eat more....well then it's not the diet soda.

July 7, 2011 - 4:49pm
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