Diet Coke diet

Naturally, I cannot let the latest research on diet soda go uncommented upon.  There is some research that correlates diet soda with overweight, but I think it is a great example of correlation does not equal causation.  The other day at lunch when I got my Diet Coke, a friend mentioned that I was about the only thin person they know that drinks diet soda (I can think of many others, prominently JP who is surely the biggest Diet Coke addict I know and reading this post).

I think a lot of overweight people drink diet soda because they are overweight.  But if that’s the only change you make to an unhealthy diet, it surely will not be enough.  As I think about it, most of my healthier friends don’t drink soda at all, diet or otherwise.  That is probably the healthiest course.  But it has always seemed pretty clear to me that if the diet soda is replacing regular soda, that’s very likely got to be a good thing.

Anyway, onto the latest research via James Hamblin (who makes the most wonderful oddball videos on health, by the way) in the Atlantic:

The September issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition just published a meta-analysis of the existing research on artificial sweeteners and weight gain. The conclusion lands in support of artificial sweeteners in the right context, specifically when they are substituted for sugar. People tend to see “modest weight loss,” suggesting that low-calorie sweeteners (LCSs) indeed “may be a useful dietary tool to improve compliance with weight-loss or weight-maintenance plans.”

That might seem obvious, but several studies have suggested that eating/drinking these nutritive sweeteners actually leads to weight gain. That has to do with satiety signals, effects on insulin levels, changes in the body’s fluid balances, and other not-immediately-apparent downstream factors…

Those are all just correlations, but consuming artificial sweeteners in isolation has also been shown to make people hungrier later on. Dr. Barry Popkin, a distinguished professor of global nutrition at the University of North Carolina, wrote in a recent literature review that since most artificial sweeteners aren’t consumed in isolation, that’s not really an issue. So the key distinction in studying and using these sweeteners is the idea of replacement as opposed to addition…

“It would not be expected for a single dietary change, i.e., replacement of sugar with low-calorie sweeteners, to cause clinically meaningful weight loss,” the current study reads. Weight management is really about overall dietary and lifestyle patterns. But it’s worth considering if you think of an afternoon Diet Coke as a bonus, as opposed to replacing a regularly scheduled Coke heavy.

In my case, the strategic replacement is exactly what I’m doing.  Since I often track my food intake weight watchers style (and stick with weight watchers principles even when not tracking), I’m quite confident that my lunch time binge of 4-5 Diet Coke (or Diet Dr Pepper at the places fortunate enough to have it) are simply replacing regular soda (or water) and not leading me to consume any extra calories.  And now I can say the science is backing me up.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

2 Responses to Diet Coke diet

  1. Damon Circosta says:

    Science shmiench, I have personally witnessed this anecdotally. Therefore it is universal truth. Also it was cold on my cul-de-sac this summer, so global warming is a hoax.


  2. Jason says:

    My campus is Pepsi products only! Denial of easy access to diet Coke has to violate at least one of my rights under the Geneva convention.

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