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ENVIRONMENTAL NUTRITION: The Diet Soda-Weight Debate

Can diet sodas really make you gain weight?

Recent headlines reporting that diet sodas can lead to weight gain have stirred up debate among health experts. While zero-calorie diet sodas have been a dieter's best friend for decades, recent research brings up the question: Do they really work?

Two studies presented in June 2011 at the American Diabetes Association's Scientific Sessions suggest diet soda may not help battle pounds or diabetes. Researchers from the University of Texas showed data that diet soft drink consumption is associated with a 70 percent greater waist circumference -- a risk factor for type 2 diabetes -- compared with non-users. In the second study, the researchers found that the artificial sweetener aspartame raised blood sugar in diabetes-prone mice. These findings coincide with other recent studies that have found negative health results associated with drinking diet soda. In a January 2012 study, daily diet soda intake (at least one per day) was linked with an increased risk for vascular events, such as stroke.

The other side of the story. The research on diet soda and weight is far from conclusive. A March 2012 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition linked switching high-calorie drinks, such as regular soda, for calorie-free drinks like water or diet soda, to weight loss. The switch from high-calorie to low-calorie drinks caused a sufficient reduction in calories to provide a two percent body weight loss over six months.

When you look at the field of research, some studies find diet soda is linked with weight gain, others reveal it aids weight loss, and some find no benefit at all. Why are the findings so confusing? You would expect the consumption of zero-calorie beverages to be uniformly linked with weight loss. The answer may be simply that obese people drink a lot of diet soda, which would explain the association between diet soda intake and higher weight in obese populations. And diet soda may encourage higher calorie intake of other food groups -- the old "diet soda and a brownie" habit. If people think they've been "good" by drinking a diet soda, they may indulge in high-calorie treats to reward themselves. For now, your best bet to keep your diet soda habit under control may be to drink more of the best zero-calorie beverages you can find -- plain water, coffee, or tea.

(Environmental Nutrition is the award-winning independent newsletter written by nutrition experts dedicated to providing readers up-to-date, accurate information about health and nutrition in clear, concise English. For more information, visit www.environmentalnutrition.com.)


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