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Are Diet Drinks Killing Your Diet?

Brian Calkins - NSCA-CPT, ACE | Cincinnati, Ohio

I have long been a proponent for replacing high sugar content beverages, like soda and juice, with their calorie-free equivalents, allowing for a reduction in empty calories and sugar, a weight loss killer. According to the USDA, the average American consumes between 156 to 168 pounds of sugar per year! Yes, that's nearly a half of a pound of sugar per day! So, I've always believed that if a can of diet soda allows someone to replace their sugary cola, it's a step in the right direction.

But, alas, research now suggests that those who drink diet soda are more likely to become overweight or obese. According to a study at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio "there is a 41% increase in risk of being overweight for every can or bottle of diet soft drink a person consumes each day".

During the 8 year study of Americans, aged 25 to 64, of the 622 participants who were of normal weight at the beginning of the study, about a third became overweight or obese.

For regular soft-drink drinkers, the risk of becoming overweight or obese was:

  • 26% for up to 1/2 can each day
  • 30.4% for 1/2 to one can each day
  • 32.8% for 1 to 2 cans each day
  • 47.2% for more than 2 cans each day.

For diet soft-drink drinkers, the risk of becoming overweight or obese was even higher:

  • 36.5% for up to 1/2 can each day
  • 37.5% for 1/2 to one can each day
  • 54.5% for 1 to 2 cans each day
  • 57.1% for more than 2 cans each day.

Does this mean that diet drinks are making us fat? Not likely. The researchers theorized that it is very possible that appetite is stimulated by taste sensation. And by drinking a calorie free beverage the brain receives a signal preparing to be satiated, but is left disappointed through lack of caloric intake, leading to a feeling of needing to eat shortly after consuming the calorie free drink. So, although the diet drink itself doesn't lead to adding pounds to the body, it may in fact lead to eating more calories than needed, the real culprit in weight gain.

So, we're left with the question of what to drink. The answer is simple: water. Yes, I know, it's not the answer everyone wants to hear, so I offer one more option: green tea. Green tea offers numerous health benefits, like lowering LDL cholesterol levels and inhibiting the abnormal formation of blood clots, and it has also been shown to aid in weight loss.

Although water is what our body needs most, and green tea has benefit, when it comes to the other diet and sugary beverages it may help to remember the rule our grandparents followed: moderation. It's okay to have a soda, glass of wine or a diet drink in moderation. Just make sure that one glass every so often doesn't lead to an over consumption. And also remember, regular exercise allows us a little more room to indulge in our favorite foods and beverages!

Below is an interview on Diet Drinks from FOX-19