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Diet beverages can make you fat

A new study has found that individuals who drink diet beverages may gain more weight than those who consume the sugar-sweetened ones
A new study has found that individuals who drink diet beverages may gain more weight than those who consume the sugar-sweetened onesRobin Wulffson, M.D.

Many drink diet beverages instead of sugar-sweetened ones in an attempt to control their weight; however, a new study has found that individuals who drink diet beverages may gain more weight than those who consume the sugar-sweetened ones. The study was published online on January 16 in the American Journal of Public Health by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (Baltimore, MD) and the Department of Health Policy and Management, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health (New York, NY).

The investigators looked at national patterns in adult diet beverage consumption and caloric intake by body-weight status. They accessed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999–2010. They examined the 24-hour dietary recall of 23,965 adults aged 20 years or older.

The researchers found that, overall, 11% of healthy-weight, 19% of overweight, and 22% of obese adults consumed diet beverages. Compared to individuals who drank diet beverages, the total caloric intake was higher among adults consuming sugar-sweetened beverages (sugar-sweetened: 2,351 calories/day; diet: 2,203 calories/day). However, the difference was only significant for healthy-weight adults (sugar-sweetened: 2,302 calories/day; diet: 2,095 calories/day). However, among overweight and obese adults, calories from solid-food consumption were higher among individuals drinking diet beverages compared with those who drank sugar-sweetened beverage (overweight: 1,965 calories/day vs. 1,874 calories/day; obese: 2,058 calories/day vs. 1,897 calories/day). The net increase in daily solid-food consumption associated with diet-beverage consumption was 88 calories for overweight and 194 calories for obese adults.

The study authors concluded that overweight and obese adults drink more diet beverages than healthy-weight adults; furthermore, they consume significantly more solid-food calories and a comparable total calories than overweight and obese adults who drink sugar-sweetened beverages. They noted that their results, when paired with other research, suggest that artificial sweeteners may affect an individual’s metabolism or cravings; however, further study is needed to confirm this theory. They recommended that heavier adults who drink diet beverages should reduce solid-food calorie consumption to lose weight.

Take home message:
One reason that heavier individuals gain weight when drinking diet beverages is that they might feel that the diet drink consumption allows them to consume more calories from food. A healthy alternative to both diet and sugar-sweetened beverages is healthier alternatives such as unsweetened ice tea or just plain water.