July 5/San Antonio, Texas/WLS -- Although intended to help consumers keep a sleek physique, diet sodas actually foster weight gain, according to a new study.

The research stemmed from a long-term study tracking the health of nearly 500 men and women for an average of 9.5 years. In comparing the weight of study participants who drank regular soda with those who drank diet soda, those drinking diet beverages saw their waistlines expand 70% faster than participants drinking regular soda. Other data showed those drinking two or more cans of diet soda per day had a 500% greater increase in waist circumference, indicating significant weight gain.

Lead researcher Helen P. Hazuda, Ph.D., chief of the Division of Clinical Epidemiology in the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio, concluded that “the promotion of diet sodas and artificial sweeteners as healthy alternatives may be ill-advised.”

Hazuda also stated that diet drinks may distort a person’s appetite and may cause damage to brain cells due to the presence of artificial sweeteners. In a related project, researchers found that consuming aspartame -- an artificial sweetener widely used in diet sodas -- raised blood sugar levels in diabetes-prone mice.

“These results suggest that heavy aspartame exposure might potentially directly contribute to increased blood glucose levels, and thus contribute to the associations observed between diet soda consumption and the risk of diabetes in humans,” said Gabriel Fernandes, Ph.D., the senior author and professor of rheumatology and clinical immunology. The findings of both studies were presented last week at the annual conference of the American Diabetes Association.

An earlier study from the University of Texas Health Science Center in 2005 found that adults have a 41% increased risk of being overweight or obese for every can of diet soda they drink per day. Some researchers have hypothesized that people who had already begun to gain weight switched over to diet soda but failed to correct other necessary alterations to lose weight or prevent from gaining weight. Others suggest people equate drinking diet soda to being on a diet and therefore will continue to binge on fatty foods, thinking that the calories cancel each other out. The result is that they continue to gain weight.

Regardless of the cause of weight gain, the most recent indicates that while soft drinks as a whole are considered unhealthy, diet soft drinks are even more damaging to a person’s health. As Dr. Hazuda noted in her presentation, diet drinks are “free of calories but not of consequences.”


From the July 5, 2011, Prepared Foods' Daily News.