What You Need to Know About Diet Soda and Weight Loss

PHOTO: Experts are split on whether diet soda can help you lose weight.

You probably heard about a new study published in the journal Obesity, which says diet drinks can help people lose more weight than drinking plain water. But you’ve probably also read time and time again that diet soda drinkers are more likely to be obese.

One report found that two-can-a-day diet drinkers had a 54 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese, compared to 32 percent for those who drank the same amount of regular soda. You may have also heard about research linking artificial sweeteners to increased sugar cravings.

So if this latest study has left you confused, that’s understandable. Here’s the gist of the study, my take on how to put the results in perspective, and why I believe you should keep reaching for water.

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In a nutshell, two groups of men and women were introduced to the same diet and exercise program, with one exception. One group drank water, and the other downed diet soda. After 12 weeks, the diet soda drinkers lost 5.95 kg (about 13 pounds) compared to 4.09 kg (just under 9 pounds) for those who drank water. The study authors speculate that the water group may have lost less weight because they indulged their sweet cravings with foods that, unlike diet soda, contained calories—including yogurt, cookies, and ice cream.

The study’s co-author, Dr. Jim Hill of the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, told CNN, “It makes sense that it would have been harder for the water group to adhere to the overall diet than the (artificially-sweetened beverage) group.” In other words, you have to satisfy your sweet tooth somehow.

Despite the four extra pounds diet-soda drinkers lost in this study, I just can’t recommend drinking diet OR regular soda. We’ve all heard about the dangers of excess sugar, and regular soda is the top source in the American diet.

And artificial sweeteners are well, artificial. As a proponent of clean eating, I believe that everything we consume should serve a natural purpose—either to fuel our activity, help our cells perform their vital functions, or provide the building blocks for healing, repair, and cell maintenance. Artificial sweeteners don’t do any of this, and I have concerns regarding other studies about their potential unwanted effects, including a study out last year linking diet soda to depression, and one from 2011 about diet soda and stroke risk.

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But this study does bring up an important point: many people may need to eat something sweet on a regular basis. In my private practice, I find that clients with sweet cravings can’t completely nix treats—trying to do so often leads to overeating other savory foods, or breaking down and binging on “forbidden” sugary foods. But there are ways to incorporate goodies made with natural sweeteners into an overall healthy diet, while still minimizing your intake of added sugar—and getting your fix from foods that contain beneficial nutrients.

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