Is Diet Soda Making Us Fat?

In our culture, diet sodas have been used for years as a guilt-​​free replacement for calorie and sugar-​​laden sodas and other sweet beverages that are known to have deleterious health effects.  The school of thought has been that consuming beverages without sugar would prevent the increasing weight, waistline, blood sugar, and heart disease risk that is associated with drinking sweet beverages like soda, juice, lemonade, sweet tea, and even some of those “sports” and “vitamin” drinks.  While it is my belief that choosing diet beverages and using sugar substitutes in moderation can be a part of a healthy lifestyle, there is nothing better and more pure than the original thing – H2O.

New research coming out of The San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging showed that over a 9.5-year period, diet soda drinkers had a 70% greater increase in waist circumference than those who did not drink diet sodas.  Furthermore, people who consumed two or more diet sodas per day had waist circumferences that increased 500% more than non diet soda drinkers!!  This is pretty alarming, since it is widely known that waist circumference is associated with chronic conditions and diseases such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.  Another study published in 2009 showed that “consumption of diet soda at least daily was associated with significantly greater risks of select incident metabolic syndrome components and type 2 diabetes”.  In addition, research is also starting to show links between consumption of artificial sweeteners and increased blood sugar and diabetes risk.

Much of the research is showing an association between diet soda drinkers and the negative outcomes listed above, but not necessarily causality. I can’t help but wonder if diet soda drinkers have more abdominal fat and more risk factors for chronic disease because of their overall lifestyle, and not just the fact that they drink diet soda.  Often times, those who are diet soda drinkers will make poor food choices and believe that choosing diet soda lessens the damage.  An example of this is the person who goes to McDonald’s and orders a Big Mac, french fries, and a diet soda.  Do regular diet soda drinkers use the soda for caffeine because they are generally lethargic, and have an inactive lifestyle?  In my experience, water drinkers make healthier food choices and exercise more on the whole – they take better care of their bodies.  What do you think??

Next time you think about choosing a diet soda or artificially sweetened beverage, try one of the following instead:

  • Water (Tip: If you don’t like plain water, keep a pitcher of water in the refrigerator with some cut up orange, lemon, lime, or cucumber slices.  This will give the water some flavor and make it extra refreshing!)
  • Unsweetened iced tea or hot tea
  • Flavored seltzer or club soda
  • Hint Water (naturally sweetened water in various flavors)

What other natural, sugar-​​free, beverages do you recommend??

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6

  1. Bryan Shipp says:

    Sadly, it has been proven over and over again that many of us are not able to make decisions for the long term. Example: Newly mandated menu information, in some city (New York) or county (Montgomery County Maryland), stating calories per serving and/​or ingredients has seemed to have no discernable effect on the eating habits of restaurant goers. The serial excuses that, “I will do some extra Cardio at the gym…or “Its just one meal” upon choosing a desert containing over 900 calories following a 1200 calorie meal seems to be the norm. There was a point made about quitting tobacco that makes sense, and ‘we really do not need it, but quitting food is just not an option… ” If we cannot change our eating habits, can we expect restaurants to think about adjusting the calorie count or portion sizes of their food? I doubt that too. Just think of all of the “All you can Eat” establishments or feeding trough style “Breakfast Bar, Pizza/​ Pasta Bar, Salad Bars , topped off with a Dessert Bar…where we herd animals can be fattened for the slaughter.
    Diet Soda, and so much other IMHO “crap” they sell us to drink, is done with millions of dollars worth of carefully crafted advertisement, is scientifically created, focus group tested ”Crap”. If you must drink it (as many will be faced with the withdrawal symptoms) find a way to wean yourself off the stuff. Please.

    - SGT Shipp

  2. I’m inclined to think the causality on this is that fat people choose to drink diet soda, and being fat they get diabetes also. It seems just as foolish to me to say that diet could cause fatness and diabetes as saying that diabetes could cause you to crave diet soda.

  3. Jack says:

    Aspartame anyone? Most things that are very sweet with the label of “0 Calories” or “Sugar Free” have aspartame. Its bad stuff, check it out.

  4. Toni says:

    Go to youtube and type in: how diet soda causes weight gain. It is a different take. It also addresses other drinks that we think are healthy. Mostly it has to do with the PH balance our body needs and the stress these drinks put on our bodies to maintain that balance.
    I really don’t think that overweight people drink diet sodas so they can eat more. I grew up on diet sodas and I was and am average size (8–10). I quit drinking diet sodas because I knew water was a better choice. I feel better and don’t retain water like I did.

  5. Craig Swensen says:

    I know from experience that diet soda creates a gutter. I started using sweeteners because sugar was causing health problems. I used sweeteners in coffee without much problem, but now I drink soda and have gained about four inches. I hope this is helpful.

  6. stacey says:

    i used to drink soda on a regular basis in my teens. most of my weight problems were pre-​​puberty. i continued to drink sodas until summer 2010. at that point i was having panic attacks which stopped me from working a part-​​time retail job.
    i cut out all drinks containing aspartame. the amount of panic attacks had reduced indicating that the artificial sweetener did have an impact on my health.
    i drank water for about a week. however it became sickly and i wasn\‘t getting the daily recommended amount needed.
    thankfully most companies have removed aspartame from their products including sports drinks and fruit juices. so i now have a mixture of different types of drinks. for me it works.
    i usually have strong tea in the morning with my usual two sugars, 1 small glass of soda, 2 small glasses of fruit juice, 1 hot chocolate and the rest water. if i\‘m out at work i\‘ll have a 500ml bottle of fruit juice from concentrate instead of soda or juice. if i\‘m doing cardio i\‘ll swap either a glass of water, soda or fruit juice for a 500ml bottle of powerade ion4.
    i\‘m lucky to have a naturally high metabolism. but even so i hold the mantra: all things in moderation.

    with that said i wonder what the results of this study would be if they had included diet and lifestyle, possibly age too, into this study.

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Shana Maleeff

Shana Maleeff, M.A., R.D., ACE-GFI, received a B.S. in Nutrition from Penn State University and an M.A. in Nutrition Education from Immaculata University in Pennsylvania. She works in the New York and New Jersey Metropolitan areas counseling clients on nutrition, exercise, medication adherence, and stress management to help them with weight management and treatment/prevention of heart disease and diabetes. Shana is the creator of the groundbreaking weight loss program "The 21 Diet and Exercise Weight Loss Solution". Previously, she worked as a hospital dietitian and as an adjunct professor of nutrition at Philadelphia Community College.

Shana takes a special interest in fitness and works as a group fitness instructor at Crunch Fitness and Equinox gyms in Manhattan. She currently resides in New York City and enjoys living a healthy lifestyle.

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