Diet soda might have a bad reputation, but a new study in Obesity is praising that and other diet beverages for their weight-loss benefits. What's even more shocking? The study found that people lose more weight on diet drinks than on water.
A 12-week randomized clinical trial of 303 people was conducted simultaneously by researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center in Aurora, Colorado, as well as at Temple University's Center for Obesity Research and Education in Philadelphia.
The participants were assigned randomly into two groups: The first followed an identical diet but drank 24 ounces of diet beverages a day; the other group followed the same diet but drank at least 24 ounces of water a day.
Those in the diet drink group had better improvements in total cholesterol and in low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad, cholesterol. They also experienced a reduction in triglyceride levels. Both groups saw decreases in waist circumference and blood pressure.
The researchers found that those on diet beverages lost an average of 13 pounds — 44 percent more than those who drank water (they lost, on average, 9 pounds). Of those in the diet drink group, 64 percent shed at least 5 percent of their body weight, compared to 43 percent in the control group. Losing even 5 percent of body weight can decrease a person's risk for high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
"This study clearly demonstrates diet beverages can in fact help people lose weight, directly countering myths in recent years that suggest the opposite effect — weight gain," said James O. Hill, Ph.D., executive director of the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, who coauthored the study. "In fact, those who drank diet beverages lost more weight and reported feeling significantly less hungry than those who drank water alone. This reinforces if you're trying to shed pounds, you can enjoy diet beverages."
"There's so much misinformation about diet beverages that isn't based on studies designed to test cause and effect, especially on the internet," said John C. Peters, coauthor of the study and the chief strategy officer of the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center. "This research allows dieters to feel confident that low- and no-calorie sweetened beverages can play an important and helpful role as part of an effective and comprehensive weight loss strategy."
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"The results of our study show that if you are trying to shed some pounds and want to drink diet sodas, they will not affect your ability to lose weight," Peters told SheKnows.
He said the study did not look into the safety of the drinks, because that falls under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. They have monitored no-calorie sweeteners for decades and, along with many other professional and medical associations, have concluded that they are safe for consumption, Peters said.
Peters said that drinking water isn't bad for you; they just noted that people experienced more significant weight-loss results when drinking diet soda was a choice.
How much is too much? Peters advised to use common sense.
"I think most people can probably sense when enough is enough," he said. "This is true for any beverage."
Andy Bellatti, a nutritionist based in Las Vegas, said he is careful to not think of diet soda as superior to water.
"Neither one contributes calories to our diet, and there are no ingredients in diet beverages that trigger satiety," he said. "I can't think of a physiological mechanism that would result in diet soda drinkers stating they feel more full," he said.
Bellatti is concerned about pushing diet sodas for weight loss. "Too often, diet sodas go hand in hand with — or can stimulate physical or psychological cravings for — unhealthy foods," he said, citing foods like burgers and french fries.
He said it's better to stick to plain water, sparkling water or flavored sparkling waters that do not contain sweeteners. Those may not be a preference for diet beverage drinkers, but he says they are the best bet.
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