The Diet Soda Debate

In recent years, there has been much debate over diet vs. regular soda. For those in favor of diet soda, they argue it has zero calories and zero sugar compared to regular, which can help with weight loss. However, those that are opposed are pulling from emerging research indicating that diet soda is not conducive to weight control. According to the recommendations of the USDA Dietary Guidelines, non-nutritive sweeteners may reduce the intake of added sugar. However, the effectiveness as a weight management strategy is unclear.

In 2005, a study conducted at the University of Texas Health Science Center found that the larger the quantity of diet soda consumed, the higher the risk for becoming overweight or obese. The likelihood of becoming overweight was increased by 65 percent, and obese by 41 percent for each diet soda the participants drank per day. According to the same university, in 2011 another study was performed using 474 participants, aged 65 years or older and found that diet soda drinkers as a group had 70 percent greater increases in waist circumference than non-diet soda drinkers over ten years. Those that were considered high diet soda drinkers (two or more per day) had a waist circumference increase of 500 percent greater than non-diet soda drinkers.

Here are some things to consider with this study. There is no discussion of lifestyle choices in regards to diet soda drinkers vs. non-diet soda drinkers. Typically those that abstain from soda all together are generally healthier people as a whole, which could lead to such a significant difference in waist circumference.

However, there could be other reasons diet soda consumption may not aid in weight loss. There is the possibility of a disconnect in the brain between the taste of artificial sweeteners and their lack of calories. The brain anticipates the body will need to digest calories upon tasting artificial sweeteners, but because there are no calories the body is simply thrown off. One study found that when rodents consumed non-caloric sweetener in yogurt, they consumed more calories, gained more weight, and put on more body fat compared to those consuming yogurt with sugar.

Besides the potential for affecting weight, diet soda has also been linked to increasing other health risks, including diabetes. A study published in 2013 from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that both sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages were associated with type 2 diabetes risks in women, and the diet beverage drinkers carried the greatest risk.

Take home message. There is research arguing both sides for and against diet soda consumption. However, more research is emerging against diet soda consumption due to increased risks of health problems and weight gain. Therefore, drinking regular or diet soda often may not be the best choice, and it might be a good idea to cut back on both beverages and choose water, unsweetened iced tea or coffee, or sparkling water instead.