The Case Against Diet Soda

January 30th, 2014 by Andrea Bennett

New research shows that people are compensating for the calories lost in diet soda in unhealthy ways.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

The idea that diet sodas mess with your taste receptors and might actually drive you toward sugary sweets isn’t a new one, but the body of research behind it is increasing. The problem lies in the communication between the taste receptors in the esophagus and stomach and the brain, which waits for cues signaling that you’ve received calories, and becomes confused because it has been tricked by artificial sweeteners. That confusion, in turn, triggers sugar cravings and increased appetite, affecting metabolism and causing weight gains.

Now, researchers are unleashing more attacks against diet sodas. The results of a new study suggest that public health messaging urging people to drop sugary drinks in favor of diets soda in order to combat obesity need to be stopped. Sara Bleich, an associate professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University and leader of the study, said that overweight and obese people who switch to diet alternatives wind up taking in the same number of calories as people who drink sugary drinks because they’re making up the difference with solid food calories.

“We need to go beyond telling them, ‘You need to drink less sugary soda,’” Bleich told NPR. Research that shows that more people drink diet soda now than ever before – about one in five people – makes sense, she says. And overweight adults are about twice as likely to drink diet sodas, a decision which indicates a desire to lose weight. But “when people make the switch from regular to diet, they’re not making many other changes,” Bleich points out.

Of course, there is another side to the debate. As NPR points out, even some medical professionals aren’t sold on ditching diet drinks altogether. Researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital found that replacing sugary drinks with diet alternatives helped obese teens manage their weight.

Where do you stand on the soda debate? Or is the best solution to swear off of soda entirely? Weigh in here.