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New Study Says Diet Soda Causes Weight Loss: Is it Healthy After All?

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A new study published in the journal "Obesity" says dieters who drank diet soda were able to lose more weight than dieters who drank water. Does this mean that the recent push against diet soda is wrong? Find out more about this study and other studies on diet soda and weight loss below.

Amid the great controversy surrounding the use of diet soda, a 2014 study published in the journal “Obesity” found that study participants who drank diet soda lost 14 pounds over a 12 week period versus study participants who drank water, who lost 10 pounds over the same period.

Industry experts claim that diet soda is “more effective than water” at speeding weight loss. Does this study indicate that drinking diet soda is the key to faster weight loss once and for all? Is diet soda really a healthy beverage option after all?

The Blow to the Diet Soda Industry

In 2013, several studies showed that individuals who drank diet soda may be at a higher risk for health problems than individuals who do not drink diet soda in the long run. Researchers from Purdue University examined the health of study participants over a period between 7 and 20 years and found that diet soda drinkers are at an “increased risk of excessive weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease."

Naturally, when science identifies the health risks of a drink formerly promoted as “healthy” the industry that creates that product will react strongly. The Wall Street Journal reports that the sale of diet soda beverages dropped 7 percent in 2013 after the Perdue study was released. The sales of regular soda dropped 2.2 percent during the same period, which means Americans are drinking less soda than they have in a long time.

As a result of these changes in the industry. Coca-Cola and other diet beverage companies funded campaigns promoting the health benefits of diet drinks. Coca-Cola started an ad campaign that stated that aspartame is a safe alternative to regular soda.

Additionally, Coca-Cola and other diet beverage companies funded the 2014 study in an effort to prove that diet sodas can be beneficial to health. The study looked at 300 participants weighing an average of 200 pounds, half of whom consumed diet sodas and half of whom consumed water in place of the diet soda beverages. Participants in the diet soda group lost an average of 14 pounds with diet coaching, while participants in the water group lost only 10 pounds with the same coaching.

According to the study author Dr. Jim Hill, the reason the diet group was more successful was that “having access to drinks with sweet taste helps the [artificially-sweetened beverage] group to adhere better to the behavioral change program.”

Are the New Study Results Accurate?

Further investigation of the 2014 weight loss/diet soda study shows questionable results. The study was funded by the American Beverage Association, whose members include Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Dr. Pepper, and other soda companies.

The first issue with this study is who funded the research. A 2007 analysis of studies published in PLOS Medicine found that there is a correlation between the industry funding of health studies and the results that provide benefit to that industry.

In addition to the study being funded by conflict-of-interest sources, other experts in the research field question the methodology of the study. The study, for example, does not state what the water drink group consumed, or if they ate the same amount of calories as the diet soda group. The water group might have continued to drink sweetened beverages in addition to water.

Prof. Swithers, one of the authors of the 2013 Perdue study, criticized the study for only looking at short-term results. She told NPR in an interview, “This paper tells us nothing about the long-term health consequences that should be our real focus."

According to Dr. Peters, one of the main study researchers, the American Beverage Association decided to fund the study to determine once and for all if diet beverages hurt or help weight loss efforts. “We thought it was important to get the data because of the belief that because obesity is associated with diet beverage consumption that it must be causing appetite disruption and weight gain,” he told Medical News Today.

Although some critics of diet soda claim that drinking diet sodas may contribute to increases in appetite, a February 2013 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that this was not the case. Previous studies found that artificial sweeteners can disrupt hunger hormones, which may cause dieters to consume more food overall. Other studies had indicated that diet beverages encourage the body to crave sweets, leading to higher calorie consumption.

The February 2013 study did not concur with the previous findings. This study examined 318 participants who consumed about 280 calories from drinks each day. Half of the study participants replaced 2 of these sugary drinks with diet drinks each day for a period of 6 months. Both groups tried to restrict calories to around 1,800 per day. Both groups chose to eat a similar mix of carbohydrates, fat, and sugar regardless of what they were drinking. The diet group actually cut back on the number of desserts that they consumed at the beginning of the study, which did not support studies that indicated diet soda consumption would increase the cravings for sweets.

Do these findings mean that diet soda is a healthy beverage to consume? Far from it. Long-term studies still indicate that while diet soda may reduce how many calories a person consumes, it has no effect on reducing health risks, and may actually increase a person’s risk of developing heart disease, weight gain, diabetes, and other health problems according to the Purdue long-term study.

What Diet Soda Does to the Body

According to Dr. Swithers, drinking diet beverages mimics the effect of a diabetic response and causes the body to develop a disrupted metabolic response when they eat sugar. Dr. Swithers said in a statement to Medicinenet that individuals who drink diet soda go through the following response:

“They become hyperglycemic. Their blood sugars go up higher than they should. They also make less of a heart-protective protein. If drinking diet soda interferes with this system, then over the long term you're taking something away that protects your cardiovascular health, and that could be what's contributing to these effects."

According to numerous previous studies, diet beverages do not have a positive effect on the body. This one study may have suggested that diet drinks can help speed weight loss in the short term, but long-term studies show a different result.

The first study to really examine the effects of diet soda was published in Preventive Medicine in 1986. This study looked at over 78,000 women between the ages of 50 and 69 for a period of one year. The study indicated that women were more likely to gain weight when using artificial sweeteners regardless of whether their diet was healthy or not. The study researchers stated, “The data does not support the hypothesis that long-term artificial sweetener use either helps weight loss or prevents weight gain."

In 1988, a study published in Physiology and Behavior looked at the effects that artificial sweeteners had on appetite. This study found that individuals who consume artificial sugar have increased appetite. Aspartame increased appetite the most. However, these findings have been questioned in recent decades, as follow-up studies did not show increases in appetite.

In 1990, researchers published their findings on aspartame in Physiology and Behavior, noting that aspartame was "producing a transient decrease followed by a sustained increase in hunger ratings."

A 1991 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that when college students were given artificial sweeteners, they consumed no less sugar overall.

In 2004, researchers from Purdue University published their findings of diet beverages in the International Journal of Obesity and Metabolic Disorders. This study found that when rats were given diet drinks, they actually consumed more high-calorie foods than rats that were given sugary beverages to drink. The researchers concluded that diet sweeteners interrupted the rat’s ability to compensate for calories in food.

In 2005, researchers in the San Antonio Heart study examined the effects of drinking diet soda on the heart for a period of 25 years. The researchers found that drinking diet soda increased the risk of significant weight gain. According to the study, for each diet drink consumed per day, study participants were 65 percent more likely to become overweight in the next eight years and were 41 percent more likely to become obese.

In a 2010 study published in the Journal of Biology and Medicine, study authors stated,

"[F]indings suggest that the calorie contained in natural sweeteners may trigger a response to keep the overall energy consumption constant. ...Increasing evidence suggests that artificial sweeteners do not activate the food reward pathways in the same fashion as natural sweeteners… [A]rtificial sweeteners, precisely because they are sweet, encourage sugar craving and sugar dependence."

A 2013 report published in Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism found that whether individuals drank soda or diet soda they had the same health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and weight gain. The study researchers suggested that artificial sugars induce metabolic derangements.

Basically, these studies indicate that drinking diet soda has an extremely detrimental effect on the body in a variety of ways, one of which is sugar addiction. If you are a diet soda drinker, you may experience better weight loss results by switching to unsweetened beverages. When you do have an occasional soda, make sure it is sweetened with sugar (ideally avoiding corn syrup) rather than artificial, chemical sweeteners.

How to Curb Sugar Cravings Once and For All

Many people start drinking diet soda because they can’t quit their craving for sugar. The body can easily become addicted to large amounts of sugar because it is easy to use for fast energy. Sugar energy, however, is not sustainable, and too much sugar will lead to rapid weight gain. So, to effectively lose weight, it is necessary to eliminate the craving for sugar. Otherwise, the pattern of a yo-yo diet emerges, which is extremely unhealthy and unsatisfying.

Supplements and Nutrients

A few supplements can help both with curbing sugar cravings and may help speed weight loss results. In general, all nutrients involved in energy production also help curb sugar cravings- simply because the energy is provided through healthier, more sustainable sources, so the body no longer requires the fast energy provided by sugar. These supplements include:

Nutrients that Fight Sugar Cravings

Make sure you get plenty of these ingredients in a supplement and natural form while you are trying to quit diet sodas. Coconut oil may also help curb sugar cravings.

Diet Changes

Switch from fast sources of energy to sustainable sources of energy. Fat, protein, and minimally processed foods are the most sustainable sources of energy. Additionally, most processed foods contain high quantities of sugar, which will make sugar cravings worse. A diet rich in nutrient-dense foods, minimally processed foods, and plenty of fresh ingredients will provide the best basis for avoiding sugar cravings that lead to weight gain and health problems like strokes, diabetes, and heart disease.

Reduce Stress

Stress can increase the cravings for sugar, so trying to reduce stress levels can help curb the need for sugar. Try to sleep at least 7 hours a night and maintain a consistent schedule. Eating meals at regular intervals will also help control sugar cravings. Regular exercise will also reduce stress and help fight the craving for sugar.

Diet Soda and Weight Loss

Although the 2014 short-term study funded by the American Beverage Association showed a link between diet sodas and short-term weight loss, there is much more evidence that proves diet soda has an unhealthy effect on the body. The best way to maintain a healthy weight is by eliminating sugary drinks altogether- whether they are in sugar or diet form. Eliminating soda from the diet has a positive effect on the body and can lead to leanness throughout life. The biggest key to long-term weight loss is to control the cravings for sugar through diet changes, supplements, and by reducing stress.





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