New Study Says Weight Gain is From Extra Food, Not Diet Soda

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Screen Shot 2013-10-11 at 1.11.44 PMEven though diet soda has fewer calories than the regular version, that hasn't stopped some folks from devising involved theories to blame the low-calorie drink for the surge in obesity. There have even been studies purporting to support this theory, even though it's really difficult to believe that the food intake and physical activity data of free-living people are very accurate.

Thus, and not surprisingly, yet another study suggests that many people who drink diet soda to lose weight might sabotage these efforts by consuming more calories from other sources.

Dr. Ruopeng An from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, examined the dietary intake data of over 22,000 adults enrolled in the NHANES surveys between 2003 and 2012. These participants provided two 24-hour lists of food intake on two non-consecutive days, and these were the sources of the dietary data Dr. An analyzed. In particular, he examined associations between consumption of various beverages and foods from the so-called discretionary food category. These are foods that, while they add variety to the diet, are energy dense but do not necessarily provide essential nutrients.

Over 90 percent of participants reported consuming discretionary foods on any given day, the investigator found. He also found that of the different beverages, alcohol and sugar-sweetened beverages were associated with the largest increases in daily total calorie intake from total calorie intake, while coffee (61 calories) and diet beverages (49 calories) were associated with the largest increases in calorie intake from discretionary foods.

In addition he found that the "incremental daily calorie intake from discretionary foods associated with diet-beverage consumption was highest in obese adults." These data would support the theory that obese adults are more likely to compensate for calorie deficits due to drinking diet-beverages rather than full-calorie beverages by consuming more discretionary foods.

Dr. Ruth Kava, ACSH senior nutrition fellow had this to say: "While these data rely on self-reported dietary intakes, they certainly do not support the contention that drinking diet beverages in and of itself leads to obesity.

"Rather," she continued, "they suggest that people who drink these beverages as a means of losing weight may be over-compensating for the calorie deficit by over-consuming discretionary foods. We will have to await future studies to see how these data hold up."