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Diet soda makes you eat more, not less

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Study finds heavy people eat more when they drink diet sodas.

If you’re overweight or obese and think drinking diet sodas will help you lose weight, think again.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins have found that when heavy people drink diet beverages, they actually end up consuming more calories from food than those who consume sugar-laden drinks.

Lead researcher Sara Bleich, an associate professor in the department of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said that when you switch from a sugary drink to a diet one, you usually don’t make any other changes in your diet, such as switching to healthier, low-calorie diet foods.

The study, published Thursday in the American Journal of Health of Public Health, used data from the 1999-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and then analyzed what survey participants recalled eating and drinking during the last 24 hours.

As a result, Bleich and other researchers from Johns Hopkins found that approximately one out of five overweight or obese American adults routinely consume diet drinks, including diet sodas – and in amounts that are about double what normal weight adults consume.

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Bleich pointed out that this is actually encouraging if you’re being told to cut calories because “discretionary beverages are a great place to start.”

Indeed, diet beverages have become a staple in the diets of many Americans, with consumption increasing at a steady rate since 1965 – a year when only three percent of Americans said they regularly drank diet beverages, according to the researchers.

Although diet soda sales actually took a dip of 7 percent last year, Bleich believes this has to do with people simply switching from diet sodas to flavored waters, teas and other diet beverages on the market these days.

So why do diet sodas make heavier people actually eat more? One explanation is that the body struggles to maintain a certain weight, so when heavy people try to cut calories by drinking diet beverages, they end up making up for it by eating more food.

For those whose bodies are at a normal weight, however, other studies show that diet beverages can help them remain slim.

SOURCE: American Journal of Public Health, Diet-Beverage Consumption and Caloric Intake Among US Adults, Overall and by Body Weight, published online ahead of print January 16, 2014