The Science of Sustainability

Diet Sodas May Not Be As Harmless As You Think

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Diet sodas increase waist size dramatically. Image courtesy of baileyraeweaver.

In an attempt to cut back on sugar and calories, many people turn to artificially sweetened diet soda to get their fix. However, two new studies suggest that not only does diet soda fail to help people lose weight, it may in fact contribute to weight gain by raising blood sugar and paving the way for type 2 diabetes.

In the first study, participants in the San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging (SALSA) were followed for an average of 9.5 years. Researches tracked height, weight, waist circumference and diet soda intake at several points throughout the study.

People who regularly drank diet soda showed an increase in waist circumference of 70% compared to those who did not drink diet soda. Worse, those who drank the most diet soda (more than two servings per day) showed a staggering 500% increase in waist size compared to non-drinkers.

While the biological mechanism by which diet soda may contribute to abdominal fat is still unknown, another study done using mouse that are more prone to diabetes suggests the artificial sweetener aspartame may be to blame. In this study researchers fed the mice food that either did or did not contain aspartame, the no calorie sweetener known commercially as Equal.

The mice fed the aspartame diet developed higher fasting glucose and lower insulin than the control group, indicating that the sweetener may contribute to the development of insulin resistance that could lead to weight gain and ultimately type 2 diabetes.

Both studies were presented at the American Diabetes Association’s Scientific Session conference in San Diego this week. The studies have yet to be subject to peer review.

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Darya Pino

About the Author ()

Darya Pino is a Ph.D trained scientist, San Francisco foodie, food and health writer and advocate of local, seasonal foods. She shares her unique scientific perspective on health and enthusiasm for delicious foods at her website Summer Tomato. Follow her on Twitter @summertomato.
  • Russell N

    Why is NPR reporting on scientific findings that have not be subjected to peer review? Why not wait till the information has been judged?

  • Carolee Kirby

    Diet soda, regular soda?? They are both horrible for you! I've been 2 years soda free! People ask how I stay small in the middle…. well here is my secret :-)

  • Allan Frankel

    There is a potential HUGE selection bias in this study. I would expect that the majority of people who drink diet sodas are people who have issues with weight control to begin with. So, I would expect this to be an adequate explanation for the findings that overweight people consume more diet drinks, as well as more diet products in general.

    This is an entirely un-scientific article and should not be a part of this site. It is not responsible.

  • Scott

    "The mice fed the aspartame diet developed higher fasting glucose and lower insulin than the control group, indicating that the sweetener may contribute to the development of insulin resistance that could lead to weight gain and ultimately type 2 diabetes."

    We've known this for a while now. Artificial sweeteners are bad. Proper sugars are where it's at, and none of this high-fructose syrup, either. Organics are the only healthy sugars.

    FFS people, STOP BEING SO FAT, and when you get fat, stop looking for the easy way out. They want you to keep drinking their "diet" soda for life, do you think it's really going to work?

  • Siriphone

    Of course the best diet soda to help with weight loss is also the easiest to find, the most natural, and one that has no artificial sweeteners, preservatives, colors, or chemicals: WATER!

    True that diet soda and weight loss may not go hand in hand, it is a more positive choice than regular soda especially if you are addicted to sugary drinks. But choosing other diet soft drinks including low calorie fruit juices, teas, or fat-free milk is a better alternative to any diet plan which I am trying to do for myself since I am one of those people who are addicted to sugary drinks.