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Does Diet Soft Drink Really Help You Lose Weight?

Popsugar logoPopsugar 13/08/2017 Michael De Medeiros

© POPSUGAR Photography / Sheila Gim

For many people, the indulgence of a sweet diet soft drink is a guilt-free pleasure, and it's considered a saviour for just about anyone trying to lose weight. Does diet soft drink really have zero consequences when it comes to weight gain, though?

To get to the bottom of how diet soft drink affects weight, we sought out expert advice from a doctor and registered dietitian. First, however, it's important to be clear on what diet soft drink actually is because there are so many different drinks out there. Diet soft drinks are calorie-free or close to it. Usually, the sweetness from sugar is replaced with sweeteners that are calorie-free. The question is whether or not replacing calorie-dense sugar with a calorie-free alternative will still make you gain weight.

The age-old mantra of weight control has always been calories in versus calories out, or in other words, if your body burns more calories than you consume, you'll lose weight. This leads most of us to think that diet soft drink is harmless toward weight gain because it doesn't add to your calorie intake. The truth, however, is more complex than this simple math equation. After all, most things that seem too good to be true usually are. Let's see if diet soft drink falls into that category.

A Doctor's Take on Diet Soft Drink

"The zero calories from diet soft drink don't necessarily mean zero weight gain. There's been a lot of research that suggested diet soft drink alters your perception of sugar. So that even if you don't get the calories from that diet soft drink, you may end up drinking and eating more calories from other sources," said Jonathan Fricke MD, MHP.

What this means is that the more often you consume foods or drinks that taste sweet, like diet soft drink, the less sensitive your body becomes to sweet foods. It's similar to how the more coffee you drink the more you need to have the same effect, which could mean your body will crave more sugar than ever before if you favour diet drinks.

And we may not be able to fully trust science on this one, as all the studies and research making claims about diet soft drink and weight gain probably aren't totally reliable yet. "A lot of the research comes from rats and mice so it may not translate to human beings," Dr. Fricke warned. Last time we checked, a mouse and a human are pretty different.

The doctor's final word on diet soft drink? "The mantra of everything in moderation is the important bottom line for it," Dr. Fricke cautioned. "I recommend to my patients there's no reason from a health perspective to drink anything other than water."

A Dietician's Take on Diet Soft Drink

The research on diet soft drink is still growing and not completely conclusive, as McKenzie Flinchum RD, LD/N, CPT and owner

Flexible Dietetics LLC pointed out.

According to Flinchum, "There are studies on the possible increase of sugar cravings with intake of diet soft drink, as well as studies revealing that artificial sweeteners may not activate the food-reward pathways in the brain. Other factors would need to take place to link diet soft drink to weight gain, but from what is currently known, diet soft drink contains alternative sweeteners, which contain zero calories, thus not contributing to overall caloric intake."

What does all this mean to you? Basically, not adding calories to your diet by drinking diet soft drink won't mean putting on a few extra kilos — at least in the short term. The long-term effects on how it could change your body are still unclear. Constantly having a sweet drink that doesn't have the same impact on the body as sugar could distort your perception of sugar and sweetness, leading you to overindulge down the road. Drinking a diet soft drink may mean no calories today, but it could lead you to reach for an extra bar of chocolate or slice of cake later.

Flinchum's overall recommendation? "I would recommend decreasing overall soft drink intake, regardless of whether it is diet or not, and switching to either more water or a better drink option than soft drnk. In moderation, diet soft drink can be enjoyed as part of a healthy lifestyle. In certain cases, it may aid in weight loss. But as with anything, moderation is key."

Final Word on Diet Soft Drink

In the short term, drinking diet soft drink won't lead to weight gain because you won't be consuming any extra calories. It's especially true if you're used to drinking regular soft drink and make the switch. The biggest factor to consider will be how consuming a sweet beverage affects the body and your sense of sweetness.

It may turn out that the effects are minimal or they may end up being substantial enough to desensitise how satisfying sweet foods taste, which could lead to overindulgence. For now, it seems safe to say that diet soft drink doesn't lead to any immediate weight gain, but if it's all you drink, it may in some unwanted weight in the future.

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