Zero weight loss from zero calorie drinks? Say it ain’t so

Are you trying to cut calories by switching from regular soda to diet soda? Do you prefer sparkling water with a little flavor, like Hint or LaCroix? Or maybe you bought a carbonating device like SodaStream or Drinkmate?

Research suggests that none of these choices can actually help with weight loss. Worse yet, they could even lead to weight gain! The reason might surprise you. It really surprised me.

The problem with regular soda isn’t just the calories

If you drink two 12-ounce cans of regular Coke each day, you can eliminate 280 “empty” (non-nutritious) calories by going for a zero-calorie alternative. Over a month, that’s 8,400 calories less, enough to lose almost two and a half pounds. So what’s the catch?

One concern is that artificially sweetened diet sodas can create a craving for sugary, high-calorie foods. So even if the calorie count is reduced compared to zero calorie sodas, consuming other foods and drinks could add even more. In rodent studies, at least one artificial sweetener (aspartame) has been found to damage a part of the brain that tells the animal when to stop eating.

And a number of studies in humans (like this one and this one) have actually found a trend in weight Gain among people who drink artificially sweetened beverages. But research has been mixed: Other studies have shown that artificially sweetened low-calorie drinks can help with weight loss. loss.

One factor that complicates the study of zero calorie drinks and weight loss is called “reverse causation.” People at risk of obesity tend to choose these drinks, making it seem like these drinks are to blame.

Of course, there are other health issues associated with artificial sweeteners, including a possible increased risk of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease, and kidney problems. The evidence for this is not strong enough to be sure, however.

Is sparkling water without artificial sweetener suitable?

Drinks containing soda water and without artificial sweeteners have long been considered safe bets to break the usual soda habit. Without sugar, calories, or artificial sweeteners, how can you go wrong?

But a 2017 study of humans and rats also casts doubt on this approach.

First, the rats: For over a year, male rats were given one of four drinks: water, a regular soft drink, a regular soft drink that had been left flat, or a diet soda. . Regular soft drinks contained a sweetener that was not artificial.

Here’s what the researchers found:

  • Rats drinking a soft drink (regular or diet) ate more food than rats drinking water or plain soda
  • Rats drinking a soft drink (regular or diet) gained weight faster than rats drinking water or plain soda
  • The amount of ghrelin in stomach tissue was higher after exposure to carbonated drinks compared to non-carbonated drinks. Ghrelin is a hormone that controls hunger.

And now the humans: 20 male college students had five drinks, one at each session for a month. Drinks included water, regular soda, regular soda that had been flat, diet soda, or sparkling water. Soon after, their blood levels of ghrelin were measured.

When students drank a soft drink (regular soda, diet soda, or sparkling water), their ghrelin levels increased to higher levels than when they drank water or plain soda.

Although this study did not assess students’ food intake or weight changes after drinking different types of beverages, the increase in ghrelin levels after consuming sodas makes it plausible that these drinks could lead to hunger. increased food consumption and weight gain. And it is worrying.

Why would drinking carbonated drinks encourage your body to release more ghrelin? The study’s authors believe that pressure-sensitive stomach cells react to the carbon dioxide in soft drinks by increasing the production of ghrelin.

What is left to drink?

The short answer is simple: water. Unsweetened tea or fruit infused water are also good alternatives.

It should be emphasized that occasionally drinking a regular soda or other soft drink is not dangerous. The question is, what is your default drink of choice – and what are its possible consequences?

The bottom line

While plain water may be the best for your health, for many it is not the most attractive choice. If you prefer to drink soda every day, it makes sense to switch from a regular alternative to a zero calorie alternative. A low-calorie soda can still be a reasonable choice, as long as you keep tabs on the rest of your diet and your weight.

It is possible that soft drinks have underestimated negative effects on appetite and weight. Still, it would be premature to say that we should all give up on carbonated drinks for fear of the obesity epidemic getting worse.

Stay tuned for further research evaluating the health effects of a range of low-calorie drinks. While it’s good to have choices, it’s also good to know the pros and cons of each.

Follow me on twitter @RobShmerling

Post Zero Weight Loss From Zero Calorie Drinks? Say it didn’t, first appeared on Harvard Health Blog.

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