Diet soda causes weight gain is an absurd statement I have heard several times over the years. Of course, the individuals who have stated this to me preceded by telling me they might as well drink regular soda instead. This line of thought is not well thought out, but maybe it should be addressed anyhow.
Could there be a glimmer of truth about this?
Is it possible that diet soda causes weight gain?
Where did this information even come from? Research from George Washington University is one place that has promulgated this theory. Their research does suggest that artificial sweeteners may actually increase a person’s risk of becoming obese. Studies of artificial sweeteners reveal that they could increase the chance of us accumulating fat in our bodies. But this is in a “dose-dependent” fashion. In other words, you have to eat a very large quantity of artificial sweeteners to increase your body fat.
What is the basis of this theory?
It is factual that weight management is a matter of calories consumed versus calories burned. So how exactly could a zero calorie sweetener in a diet soda cause you to gain weight?
Sweet substances bind to sensors in our mouth called “sweet-taste receptors.” These receptors send a message to our brain to tell us that we are eating something sweet. In the last decade, these sensors have been found in other parts of our body, such as the bladder, the lungs and even in bones. This has raised questions about what effect sweeteners, and these sweet taste receptors, could be having inside our bodies.
Results of research presented recently at the 100th annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in Chicago, addressed the effect that artificial sweeteners have on the cells that make up our fat stores. These cells have a glucose transporter (a protein that helps glucose get into a cell) called GLUT4 on their surface. When we eat more sugar, the cells take up more glucose, accumulate more fat and become larger.
Studies have found that the artificial sweetener sucralose increases GLUT4 in these cells and promotes the accumulation of fat. These changes are associated with an increased risk of becoming obese. But what you need to know is that only a small number of obese people who consume artificial sweeteners have been involved with this research.
Now for the rest of the story.
This same research displayed that when consumed in low quantities, artificial sweeteners have been shown to aid weight loss. They have also been shown to improve metabolic conditions. There is little support for the notion that no-calorie sweeteners stimulate appetite or contribute to obesity.
Still think diet soda causes weight gain?
People who regularly consume diet drinks are more likely to have poor diet quality and eat fewer fruits and vegetables than those who don’t drink them. It is common that people switch to diet soda when they begin gaining weight without addressing other aspects of their diet that are causing the weight gain.
Weight management will always be about calories consumed versus calories burned. With zero calories, it is a bit absurd to believe diet soda causes weight gain.
You can’t believe everything you read. All the news stories and blog postings on this topic cite the same few studies: research in rats conducted by two investigators at Purdue University and two studies that followed soda drinkers over time.