If you’ve ever started a weight-loss plan, you probably changed up your eating and drinking habits. Maybe you cut out fried foods and sugary snacks, added in more vegetables and switched from regular soda to diet. Well, according to research, that last step might not be so smart. The 2017 meta-analysis was the latest to show that artificial sweeteners or diet soda may not help you lose weight after all.
When taken at face value, diet soda seems like a health-conscious choice. It saves you the 140-plus calories you’d find in a sugary soft drink while still satisfying your urge for something sweet with artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose. But there’s more to this chemical cocktail than meets the eye.
Can diet soda help you lose weight? One study looked at more 6,500 participants and found that diet soda drinkers were 67 percent more likely to have diabetes and 37 percent more likely to have metabolic syndrome. What’s more, data from the Framingham Heart Study, the longest running heart disease study in the US, found 56 percent increase in metabolic syndrome when people drank one or more diet sodas per day.
Another study published in 2008 also found an association between diet soda consumption and metabolic syndrome. The interesting thing about this particular study was that drinking diet soda was linked to a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome than drinking sugar-sweetened beverages. Drinking diet soda was essentially as bad for your health as eating fried food.
Some researchers began suspecting that artificial sweeteners had a strange effect on weight. As far back as the 1970s, studies were starting to show that they weren’t the magic weight-loss bullet that you might think. This 2017 meta-analysis in the Canadian Medical Association Journal is just one more piece of evidence on an ever-growing pile showing that just because artificial sweeteners don’t contain calories doesn’t mean that they help you lose weight.
While drinking diet soda every day isn’t exactly good for your health, the chances of it sabotaging your weight-loss efforts are slim. So, can diet soda help you lose weight?
A meta-analysis is a kind of super-charged scientific study that crunches the data from many published papers in one big group to get a result that’s more airtight than any one paper on its own. That’s what this study did: the researchers found nearly 12,000 papers that focused on artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, and stevia, and selected a handful that met their criteria. Seven were randomized controlled trials, the kind of experiments that break volunteers into groups: one group gets the test substance, the other group gets a control substance. Thirty were prospective cohort studies, a less rigorous but still-useful kind of study in which researchers collect data from a group of people over a period of time.
In the trials, the sweeteners had no effect on their weight. In the cohort studies, they were linked to a slight increase in weight. The researchers concluded that the use of artificial sweeteners does not help with the weight management process.
In the cohort studies, researchers didn’t control subjects’ diets, so it’s possible that they rewarded their “good” decisions to choose artificial sweeteners by eating more sweets overall. But in the randomized controlled trials, all groups should have eaten the exact same things, so that doesn’t explain it. Some scientists theorize that artificial sweeteners take a toll on weight by affecting your gut microbiome and how your body handles glucose.
Diet soda alone does not cause weight gain, but it has more to do with the unhealthy habits of diet soda drinkers—the sum of which leads to weight gain. The artificial sweeteners in diet soda mess with your body’s chemical processing, causing you to eat more and consequently gain weight. The research in this area is inconsistent at best.
If you’re doing everything else with your diet and exercising correctly and regularly, you’re already on your way to losing weight.
Having the occasional diet soda won’t stop you from achieving your goals or the body you’ve always wanted. Limit your consumption to one per day at most.
Do you drink diet soda? Did it help you lose weight? Let us know in the comments below!