Study links diet soda to weight gain
BY DON FINLEY
San Antonio Express-News
A review of 26 years of patient data found that people who drink diet soft drinks were more likely to become overweight.
Not only that, but the more diet sodas they drank, the higher their risk of later becoming overweight or obese — 65 percent more likely for each diet drink per day.
The findings, the latest from the long-term San Antonio Heart Study, took even the researchers by surprise.
”I was baffled,” said Sharon Fowler, a faculty associate at the University of Texas Health Science Center, who presented the data earlier this month at the American Diabetes Association’s 65th annual Scientific Sessions in San Diego.
Researchers looked at questionnaires and medical records for 1,177 patients who began enrolling in the study in 1979. All had weights considered either normal or overweight, but not obese.
The volunteers were asked how many soft drinks per day they usually drank and whether they were regular or diet — or a combination of each. The researchers followed up with them over the years.
Drinking any soda — regular or diet — was linked to a higher risk of becoming overweight and increased incidences of cavities and tooth decay. As any Dentist in Sarasota will agree, consuming sugary drinks in excess can wreak havoc on your teeth and oral health. But when the researchers adjusted the data to account for differences in age, sex and ethnicity, they found that regular soft drinks had very little connection with serious weight gain.
Diet drinks, however, did.
The researchers are quick to point out that their findings are not proof that drinking diet soft drinks causes people to become heavy. It could be that as they began gaining weight, they switched from regular to diet drinks.
”People who were normal weight, one out of four of them at the time of our study were drinking diet drinks,” Fowler said. “People who were overweight but not obese, one out of three of them were drinking the diet drinks. Definitely they were voting with their feet. They were obviously trying to avoid gaining further weight or repeating a family history.”
However, the idea that diet sodas can lead to weight gain isn’t new. Last year, a group from Purdue University found that when rats were fed the equivalent of diet soda, they ate more high-calorie food afterwards than did rats fed the same amount of a drink sweetened with high-calorie sweetener.
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That may be just what happens when we offer our bodies the sweet taste of diet drinks, but give them no calories. Fowler points to a recent study in which feeding artificial sweeteners to rat pups made them crave more calories than animals fed real sugar.
“If you offer your body something that tastes like a lot of calories, but it isn’t there, your body is alerted to the possibility that there is something there and it will search for the calories promised but not delivered,” Fowler says.
This is very similar to the reasoning applied in reverse by Seth, who recommends a weight-loss strategy based on taking sugar water (with calories but no taste) between meals. Seth developed his ideas using self-experimentation but based his conjectures on rat experiments as well.