an aluminum can of diet soda, non-sugar sweeteners, daily diet soda

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. 

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  1. Chris N
    Minneapolis, MN

    When I was younger, I worked a soda pop bottling plant. At one point, I was promoted to mixing the syrup that is used. Regular pop was easy to make. Water, sugar, flavor, and color. But diet pop was more like a chemistry assignment. At that time, the industry had just banned Sodium cyclamate and had switched to saccharine. I could never stand the taste of any diet drink and there has been too much concern about cancer and other health risks to take a chance on them.

    But if you grew up drinking pop all the time as I did, it can be difficult to control the addiction. Flavored (no sugar) carbonated water may be the best option. I would also avoid the sports drinks if you care about your health long-term.

    I am not very overweight, but my slimming method of choice is a vegetable juice fast for a day at a time. Fruit juice fasts can also work, but may cause headaches as your body releases toxins. I have actually gotten sick late in the day where I was fasting. But I felt wonderful when I recovered. A water fast should work even better, but seek professional medical advice before any fasting as it places some stress on your body. I have found doing 1 day at a time and not overeating when I break the fast works well and is not too hard.

  2. Jane

    Do you leave posts at “Awaiting Moderation” if you don’t politically agree with them?

    I would appreciate your posting my comment, if for nothing else than the author really needs to know to use the word “baby” when not in a medical setting. “Fetus” is a medical term. “Baby” is much more appropriate for articles such as this.

  3. Evelyn

    As a Type II diabetic, I question the presumption that it is better to consume sugared beverages rather than ASBs. I track my readings very carefully and can assure you that if I were to drink sugared items rather than artificially sweetened ones, my HBA1c would be off the charts. I’m able to keep my HBA1c below 6.5 because I use artificial sweeteners and consume no sugar added foods. In doing so, I’m able to enjoy many beverages and foods that would work against my condition if they were not no sugar added. I simply can’t live on salad.

  4. Fran

    I stopped drink diet many years ago when it was said that it’s linked
    to diet soda. Try to keep my sugar intake under control but I can’t loose weight no matter what I do. A healthy diet doesn’t help. My thyroid doctor said I had slow metabolism called hypothyroidism.

  5. Mary Jane

    The real problem is sugar, which I stopped eating about 15 years ago. Over those years, my taste buds changed, such that I have no desire for anything laced with sugar or substitutes. I understand why they’re called “sweet” peas, because now they taste sweet to me. When is People’s Pharmacy going to devote a show to America’s sugar addiction?

  6. Jane

    “Even though pregnant women whose bodies are nurturing a growing fetus should….”

    Fetus? Really? How ’bout using the word ‘baby’ when addressing non-medical folks. (Or maybe you want to dehumanize the child for political reasons?). Anyhow, can we all get back to using normal language…okay?

    Otherwise, okay article.

    • Vi

      Fetus is a medical term, just like penis is a medical term. The term was used accurately in the article. In health articles, the penis is not called anything else so the same should be apply when referring to a fetus. Both are commonly used medical terms, both are non-political. Thank you

  7. MLMary

    I quit drinking diet soda for my 2013 new year’s resolution and lost 20 pounds in four months. I had decided that I would try to give up the diet sodas for one month just to see if it made any difference in my weight. There was something about drinking diet soda that made me feel hungry all the time. Once I quit drinking the diet sodas (approximately 4 12-ounce cans per day) I was able to stick to a low-calorie diet plan. Once I saw the great effect of not drinking diet soda, I was a believer and easily quit drinking them altogether. I drink plain water, unsweetened coffee and tea. I don’t drink any artificially sweetened beverages – flavored waters – or carbonated beverages.

  8. jas

    DON’T drink any diet sodas! After I switched from regular Coke to Diet Coke for weight loss reasons, I started to get neurological symptoms that were similar to MS: vertigo, bladder issues, sudden, extreme fatigue that was not due to sleep loss, etc. I took neuro tests, which thankfully, came back normal. I also started to get kidney stones. I was an extreme soda addict and drank usually at least one 2-liter bottle a day, if not more…
    I kicked the entire soda habit completely, cold-turkey and now I only drink water, non-fat milk, healthy smoothies, occasional juice; no alcohol, coffee/tea.

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