More bad news for diet soft drinks

zerocalorieDiet soft drinks aren’t that wonderful

Are diet soft drinks making people fat?  Are they preventing weight loss?  For the past few years, doubts have been raised about whether diet soft drinks are all that helpful.  Some researchers think artificial sweeteners may actually make people eat more food.  Not a great image and not helpful for sales.  The diet soft drink market is shrinking.  Are consumers waking up to the false promise of diet soda pop?  Tired of the taste and switching to other beverages like coffee, tea, water, energy drinks and sports drinks?

A new study adds more evidence to the argument that diet soft drinks aren’t helping with weight loss.  The researchers examined food and beverage intake for almost 24,000 people.  Diet soft drink consumption was much more common with obese and overweight people as for normal weight.  Compared to obese people who drank regular sugar-sweetened soft drinks, the obese diet soft drink consumers ate more calories from food.  In other words, drinking diet soda pop didn’t result in a calorie deficit that would help with weight loss.  Total calorie intake was similar between diet and regular soft drink groups.   The obese people who used diet drinks just made up with difference from more food.

This isn’t that surprising.  Behavioral research shows that people reward themselves for choosing “healthy” diet foods by indulging in high calorie foods.  So diet soft drinks aren’t so much a weight loss tool as a trade off tool.  Have your sweet fizzy drink and have your cheesecake or super sized french fries, too.

Some scientists believe the artificial sweeteners actually drive appetite, causing overeating.  This study didn’t really answer that question either way.  While the obese diet soft drink group did eat more calories from food, their total calorie intake wasn’t that different from the obese group that drank sugar-sweetened beverages.  But it’s possible people in the diet beverage group were driven to overeat food, despite their good intentions, by some metabolic effect of the artificial sweeteners.  The question remains unanswered.

Take Away Message:

Diet soft drinks don’t automatically lead to weight loss.  If you want to get serious about losing weight, you need to cut total calories.  If you think diet beverages and foods allow you to cheat with high calorie treats, your diet won’t be very successful.

More on Winter Calories

Last week’s discussion of the calorie burning potential of various winter activities was timely.  A group of scientists from the Netherlands write that cold weather causes more calorie burning, even if you aren’t participating in sports.    This makes sense.  When people are exposed to cold temperatures, metabolism revs up a bit to maintain body temperature, which means extra calories are burned.  If you spend cold winter months inside, in a warm environment, you don’t get any boost in calorie burning.  The authors suggest that if people adapt to an indoor temperature of around 66-67 º F (18-19º C) they can burn a few extra calories everyday.

How many calories?  The authors wisely don’t make any promises, because that depends on variables like your age, gender, weight, health, amount of clothing and the room temperature you set.  Don’t expect weight loss miracles from simply lowering the thermostat.

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