Despite having few or no calories, diet soda can still lead to weight gain, new research suggests.
Research at Purdue University says artificially sweetened foods, including diet soda, can contribute to weight gain and other health risks.
A summary of current research was published in the academic journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, Purdue says. The findings show daily consumption of diet soda can be connected to higher risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and weight gain.
Diet soda may actually be worse than regular soda, the research found. One of the studies examined found diet soda drinkers were more likely to gain weight than people who drank non-diet soda, and others found those who drank diet soda had a higher risk of metabolic syndrome than those who didn’t. Metabolic syndrome is related to diabetes and heart problems.
“Are diet sodas worse for you than regular sodas? I think that’s the wrong question. It’s, ‘What good are sodas for you in the first place?'” Purdue researcher Susan Swithers told The Indianapolis Star.
The studies looked at drinks containing aspartame, sucralose and saccharin. But one catch is that these studies are usually done on animals and then modeled in humans. It’s harder to do well-designed studies for people, Swithers says, because sweeteners have become incredibly common in our regular diet. About a third of American adults regularly consume the studied sweeteners.
That makes it hard to figure out causes and solutions, she says, but there are a few possibilities. One is that people who drink diet soda are more likely to eat unhealthy food because they think the drink offsets the extra calories. Another is that our bodies haven’t adapted to understand artificial sweeteners, so consuming them may somehow throw our bodies’ demand for calories out of whack — then we eat more than we should.
In either case, the solution is to consume less soda and be more conscious of our eating decisions, the research suggests.