Diet Drinks May Help with Weight Loss - But At What Cost?
A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that replacing beverages including juice, soda, and sweet tea with calorie-free drinks such as water, hot tea, and diet soda, may help with weight loss goals.Obviously, this is positive news to the over 50 million Americans who are trying to lose weight. However, this study also begs the question of which is better, water or diet drinks?
The researchers followed over 300 overweight and obese men and women over a period of six months. Half of the group replaced any sugary beverages with water or diet drinks, while the other half of the group used their own dieting tricks. In the end, those who cut out sugary beverages were twice as likely to lose 5% of their body weight and overall, lost slightly more weight than those who did not.
I know, I know, "slightly" more weight is not going to make headlines on the evening news, BUT if you ask me, it should. People around the globe are struggling to lose weight, and, if making this one simple dietary change can help someone to reach that goal, then we should be shouting it to the roof tops!
Did I mention that weight loss was not the only benefit? Those who cut out sugar-laden drinks also had a significant drop in their waist size, improved hydration, and reduced blood pressure and fasting blood sugar. I’ll drink (water) to that!
Diet Drinks or Water?
What I found most interesting about this study is that those who replaced soda and juice with diet versions lost more than those who replaced them with water. Now, before you run out to stock up on Crystal Light and Diet Coke, please know that the weight loss difference was negligible, and, with a larger study size, perhaps it would have gone the other way.
Conflicting opinion abounds when it comes to artificial sweeteners. Just as my view may differ from your own when it comes to diet drinks, the same disagreements are found throughout the food and nutrition field. In fact, many of my fellow dietitians regularly enjoy diet sodas (and yes, once in a while I will have one myself), while others avoid them like the plague. As you can see, expert opinion is quite mixed on the use of artificial sweeteners and weight loss.
Choosing to use artificial sweeteners, or any calorie-free sweetener for that matter, is truly a personal one. While there are endless arguments against artificial sweeteners, there has not been any significant scientific evidence made against their use since the 1970’s (one targeting aspartame). I choose to use sugar cane or honey in place of Splenda or Sweet ‘n Low, though only because I prefer a more natural approach and trust in Mother Nature to satisfy my sweet tooth.
Thankfully, there are plenty of naturally calorie-free beverages to choose from, including a plethora of tea and coffee varieties, sparkling water, LaCroix, or water with a splash of juice. And did you know that a single teaspoon of sugar or honey only has 15 calories? This means you can stir up a nearly calorie-free beverage on your own (try sarsaparilla extra with that teaspoon of sugar to make your own 15-calorie root beer). Okay, before I digress too much...
A Couple of Theories against Artificial Sweeteners
First of all, I believe that the more sweet flavors that hit your tongue, the more you are going to crave them. Therefore, if you are filling your day with calorie-free sweet beverages, your body is going to crave more and more sweet flavors some which will likely not be calorie-free. Ultimately, if this occurs, the sugary cravings for cookies or candy may end up squeezing in extra calories to your day – and onto your hips.
The second theory shared by dietitians and foodies alike is that artificial sweeteners are often used as a scapegoat to eat more. Have you ever noticed someone chugging a Diet Coke while munching on a bag of cookies or a side of fries? If diet drinks are being used as a weight loss tool, they must be replacing calories rather than providing added wiggle room to pack in more. Make sense?
The Bottom Line
Evidence shows that hunger can easily be confused for thirst, so when the munchies strike, fill up your glass before reaching for that bag of chips. This trick alone can help prevent mindless noshing by quenching your hunger, and, when combined with a healthy meal or snack, it can help you to feel fuller faster. Adding more calorie-free drinks into your day is a win-win situation, potentially saving you hundreds of calories. Remember, all it takes is 500 calories each day to lose one-pound this week!
Now, whether you choose to sip a refreshing glass of water or a diet drink, well that is going to be up to you. So, you tell me. What will YOU be reaching for?
Tate, D., et al. (2012, March). Replacing caloric beverages with water or diet beverages for weight loss in adults: main results of the Choose Healthy Options Consciously Everyday (CHOICE) randomized clinical trial 1,2,3,4. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 95(3), pp. 555-563. doi: 10.3945/â€‹ajcn.111.026278