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Do “diet” drinks help you lose weight?

Sweet juices, teas and sodas are a refreshing change from drinking water all the time. In an effort to cut down on the added calories that these sugar-sweetened soft drinks offer, many people opt for diet counterparts with zero-calorie artificial sweeteners because it allows them to enjoy these drinks without the added sugar.


Unfortunately, according to research, foods with artificial sweeteners may still contribute to weight gain.


“Artificial sweeteners show up in many low-fat and low-calorie drinks and processed foods that people eat in an effort to improve their diets and lose weight,” said Gina McArdle, RDN, LDN, registered dietitian nutritionist at Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scranton. “But there are a lot of questions about the effects of these sweeteners on the body.”


You’ve heard of many artificial sweeteners. They go by names like aspartame, sucralose, saccharin and more recently, low-calorie sweetener stevia.


A number of studies have examined the effects of these artificial sweeteners on the body and the brain. In one study of more than 6,000 people, researchers found that people who drank diet soda at least once a day were at 67 percent greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes than those who didn’t drink diet soda, whether they gained weight or not.


One other large-scale study of thousands of participants over 10 years found that people who drank at least 21 servings of diet soda each week were twice as likely to become overweight or obese. The study also concluded that the more diet soda people drank, the more likely they were to become overweight or obese.


These studies don’t prove cause and effect, but rather a link between two issues.


One study showed that people who drank diet soda consumed more calories per day, which will certainly contribute to weight gain unless activity levels are increased accordingly.


Researchers aren’t exactly sure why this happens, but some believe that artificial sweeteners trick the body into thinking it has consumed something sweet. This triggers the body to release insulin to break down and metabolize sugar. But when the sweet taste comes from something artificial, and there is no actual sugar to break down, the body gets confused and continues to crave food. This could lead you to consume more calories.


“Diet drinks and foods sweetened with artificial sweeteners seemed like the ticket to losing weight and staving off disease like type 2 diabetes, but they may be just as bad as eating and drinking sugar,” said McArdle. “However, there is more research to be done to understand the exact effects of artificial sweeteners on the body.”


So, are artificial sweeteners making you gain weight?


“There is growing evidence that shows they may not help if you are trying to lose weight,” said McArdle. “If you want a low-calorie, low-sugar beverage, your best choice is water.”


Gina McArdle, RDN, LDN, is a registered dietician nutritionist at Geisinger Community Medical Center in Scranton. For more information, please visit

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