Is Drinking Diet Soda a Good Weight Loss Strategy?

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Non-nutritive sweeteners (like aspartame, saccharin, stevia, acesulfame K, rebaudioside A, neotame, and sucralose) are in common use in thousands of products, including diet sodas, yogurts and desserts . These artificial sweeteners provide the sweet taste without the high calories of traditional sweeteners like table sugar (sucrose), honey, fruit juice concentrates, or corn syrup.

The American Diabetes Association lists buying diet sodas as a good way to lose weight.

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This seems like good advice because a study reported in the Journal of Diabetes Investigation reported research reporting that consumers of sugar sweetened beverages had an overall 30% greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This study pooled risk data from a number of other studies showing increased risks of type 2 diabetes in sugary beverage drinkers.

The risk from these studies vary slightly and are shown here:

Pooled Sugar Sweetened Beverage Data

Pooled Sugar Sweetened Beverage Data

Diet Sodas May Not Be As Safe As You Think?

While most people thinking about diet soda focus on weight loss, other problems seem to be cropping up among frequent consumers of diet soda.

The American Heart Association cites a new study about artificially sweetened soft drinks indicating a hazard ratio of 2.96 for ischemic stroke and 2.89 for Alzheimer’s disease for higher than average drinkers of diet soft drinks compared to those who did not consume diet soft drinks.

Diet Soda May Advance Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diagetes

And, a study reported in the journal Diabetes Care described a study of 6,814 adults between 45 and 84 years of age. The researchers wanted to investigate subclinical cardiovascular disease. They found that, compare to those who did not drink diet soda, those who drank diet soda on a daily basis increased their risk of metabolic syndrome by 36% and increased their risk of type 2 diabetes by 67%. Metabolic syndrome was evidenced by higher waist circumference and high fasting glucose.

obesity photo

Photo by colros

Another study in the European journal of Nutrition examined both sugar sweetened beverages and diet sodas over 7 years to determine the risks for type 2 diabetes. As expected, more people developed type 2 diabetes who drank the most sugar sweetened beverages. And, for diet sodas, the relative risk of getting diabetes increased on 5% for those who drank less than 1 serving a week, but jumped to 70% for those who drank more than one serving a week.

The authors of this study concluded that “Diet soda is not always effective at preventing type 2 diabetes even though it is a zero-calorie drink.”

Historic Effects of Non-Caloric Diet Sweeteners on Obesity

Over a week in the Spring of 2017 it is estimated that nearly 29 million people consumed at least one Diet Coke. Overall, about 20% of Americans consumed a diet drink on any given day.

But, artificial sweeteners are more widespread in our food supply than you might imagine. One would expect artificial sweeteners to help reduce our obesity statistics. But, as you can see, although artificial sweeteners have been added to thousands of products, our obesity rates (with a BMI of 30 or more) continue to rise.

Time line of artificial sweetener use and obesity trends in the United States

Time line of artificial sweetener use and obesity trends in the United States from Gain weight by going diet? Artificial sweeteners and the neurobiology of sugar cravings

While cutting calories by using low calorie artificial sweeteners seems like good idea to lose weight, the data does not lend support to this concept.

Why Artificial Sweeteners Are Not The Best Weight Loss Technique

Food should both provide nourishment and provide a satisfying sensory reward. This sensory reward comes from our senses (like taste, touch and smell) as well as post-ingestive rewards. These post-ingestive rewards are moderated by the hypothalamus and help regulate energy, salt balance and the desire to eat.

While artificial sweeteners taste sweet and can stimulate the taste buds, they do not seem to produce the same level of post-ingestive rewards as actual glucose. This produces two results that promote weight gain:

  1. Eating Reward: The lack of a complete reward when ingesting artificial sweeteners (as found in diet sodas) fails to fully satisfy and further fuels the food seeking behavior and results in consuming foods with high calorie sweeteners.
  2. Flavor Preferences: In addition, consuming sweet foods or drinks (with natural or artificial sweeteners) simply trains the person to favor sweetness. And this sweetness is sought throughout the diet, including food items containing natural, high calorie sweeteners.

These could be major reasons that artificial sweeteners are not helping people control obesity and lose weight.

Conclusion You Can Use

Your “natural” flavor preference for sweetness is not inherited. It is developed. It is a result of your being  in the habit of repeatedly consuming sweet foods. This is how you think food should taste, so you prefer sweet tastes.

Substituting diet soda for traditional soda is not helping to change your flavor preferences or lose weight.

To reduce your long term sugar intake you must get used to foods that are unsweetened. Purchase more natural foods that do not have added sweeteners. Get used to the natural flavors of real foods.

This will help you cut back on unnecessary calories and help you maintain a healthy weight.

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