For millions of Americans diet soft drinks have seemed like the solution to obesity. The implied promise: Have your cake and eat it too…or more specifically, drink your favorite soda without gaining weight. But is drinking diet soda really a good way to lose weight?
Diet Soda Doesn’t Help People Lose Weight:
Unfortunately, people’s belief in diet soda may not be supported by evidence. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that people who are overweight and regularly consume diet soft drinks consume more calories from solid food at snacks or at meal time compared to overweight people who drink sugary soft drinks. The total amount of calories consumed was the same, so switching to diet pop did not promote weight loss (Bleich et al, American Journal of Public Health, March 2014).
This is not the only study to find that artificially-sweetened beverages don’t help people eat less. A more recent study compared four different types of sweeteners: aspartame, monk fruit, stevia and sucrose (Tey et al, International Journal of Obesity, March 2017). The conclusion:
“The consumption of calorie-free beverages sweetened with artificial and natural NNS have minimal influences on total daily energy intake, postprandial glucose and insulin compared with a sucrose-sweetened beverage.”
Another study included an evaluation of epidemiological data from around the world (Borges et al, PLOS Medicine, Jan. 3, 2017). The authors concluded that there isn’t much evidence that artificially-sweetened beverages help people lose weight. In fact, they state:
“…ASBs [artificially-sweetened beverages] should not be promoted as part of a healthy diet.”
Should Pregnant Women Drink Diet Soda?
Pregnant women should not be trying to lose weight, but many struggle to keep from gaining too much weight. As a result, it is no surprise that many turn to diet pop as a non-caloric alternative to regular soda.
Unfortunately, the news is not good. A recent study of 918 mother-child pairs in Denmark found that about half of the women drank diet beverages during their pregnancies (Zhu et al, International Journal of Epidemiology, online June 6, 2017). Compared to women who never drank soda, those who had diet soda every day were more likely to have big babies and children who were overweight at age 7. Drinking plain water instead reduced the likelihood that the children would be heavy.
Do Older People Benefit from Diet Drinks?
Even though pregnant women whose bodies are nurturing a growing fetus should probably stay away from diet beverages, what about older people? Usually, as people become less active, they need fewer calories. Are diet sodas helpful for them?
The evidence shows that older people should leave diet pop alone. It comes from a study with a descriptive title: “Diet soda intake is associated with long-term increases in waist circumference in a biethnic cohort of older adults: the San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging” (Fowler, Williams & Hazuda, Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, April 2015). “Escalating abdominal obesity” (bigger bellies) is the last thing anyone wants, yet that is what the scientists found among diet soda drinkers.
How Can People Lose Weight?
People desperate to lose weight may be targeted by unscrupulous companies selling weight loss products or herbs. But anyone offering effortless weight loss should be regarded with skepticism. It is rarely easy to lose weight.
Instead, people may want to try an evidence-based approach laid out by one of our People’s Pharmacy guests, such as the 2-Day Diet or the one suggested by Dr. David Katz in Disease-Proof. Another possibility: the program described by Dr. David Ludwig in Always Hungry? Conquer Cravings, Retrain Your Fat Cells & Lose Weight Permanently. You can listen to our interview with Dr. Ludwig in Show 1020: How to Lose Weight Without Feeling Hungry.