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Diet beverages can lead to weight loss, at least short-term

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Beverage industry funds study showing diet drinks can help weight loss

Can diet soda or other low calorie drinks help you lose weight? The answer is yes, at least according to research funded by the American Beverage Association. But that's not all switching to diet beverages is suggested to do for your health. Switching to diet soda could help with weight loss - maybe short-term

Along with weight loss, consuming low and no-calorie soda, tea or flavored water was shown to lower cholesterol and feel less hungry in addition to reduced risk of type 2 diabetes in this study that compared drinking water to diet drinks.

More weight loss with diet drinks than with water

James O. Hill, Ph.D., executive director of the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center and a co-author of the study said in a press release that study, which was conducted over a 12-week period, “clearly” shows you can lose weight and enjoy diet beverages.

In fact the diet beverage group lost more weight than those who consumed water, Hill added.

Cutting calories, exercising and behavioral change are mainstays of weight loss programs. But there has been controversy about the role of diet drinks that have been suggested to have the opposite effect.

Some studies suggest the diet beverages lead to increased hunger because artificial sweeteners in sodas and teas interfere with brain signaling, releasing hunger hormones that lead to overeating and obesity.

A 1986 study published in the journal Preventive Medicine looked at weight differences among 78,694 women ages 50–69 over a one-year period. Women who used artificial sweeteners were “Significantly more likely than nonusers to gain weight, regardless of initial weight.” The results were... “not explicable by differences in food consumption patterns”, the study authors wrote.

In the current study there was more weight loss among the group given diet drinks compared to the water-drinking group. Diet beverage drinkers lost 4 more pounds compared to those drinking water. All of the study participants also received behavioral health, dietary and exercise interventions.

Is the study the final word?

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Not necessarily. There could be variables explaining why people given diet drinks fared better in the study than the “water drinkers”, including increased calorie consumption in the water group that came from not being able to enjoy low-calorie beverages. The study did not track how many calories were consumed by the participants during the twelve weeks.

"The most likely explanation was that having access to drinks with sweet taste helps the (artificially-sweetened beverage) group to adhere better to the behavioral change program," Hill explained.

Many experts believe artificial sweeteners cause an increased desire for sugars. Susan Swithers, a professor of Behavioral Neuroscience at Purdue University thinks the study was too short to predict any long-term effects on health or for weight loss related to diet beverage consumption.

EmaxHealth contributor and registered dietitian, Denise Reynolds says water is a better choice, but admits that cutting out sweetened beverages is an obvious way to get rid of 200 calories for each soda eliminated in an e-mail interview.

“Eliminating one soda a day can save 1400 calories per week which can ultimately cause a one pound weight loss over three weeks with no other changes. Hopefully people are making other changes as well.”

But her first suggestion is “‘good ‘ole water” for her own clients. Reynolds points out many people simply don't drink enough water.

Diet sodas make many people feel like they need something else to eat. Denise is one of them. Her personal experience is that “...diet coke often leaves me craving junk food - salty or sweet. As if my body was expecting calories, doesn't get them, and seeks revenge -
which is exactly what past studies have suggested.

Reynolds summarized by saying “I think that eliminating sodas, sweet tea, etc from the diet is an excellent first step. The drinks add calories without actually filling you up, so you don't get the satisfaction you might feel from solid food which helps you with self-control. But cutting back on both sugar and artificial sweeteners in favor of water or unsweetened beverages is probably the ultimate best choice.”

Have you lost weight by switching to diet beverages? The new study suggests you can lose weight, improve you cholesterol profile and lower your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes by consuming low calorie or no calorie drinks - at least in the short-run.


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Updated 5/31/2014