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Effects of diet sodas on weight gain remain uncertain

Recent studies suggesting that diet sodas may lead to weight gain have stirred up interest among diet-soda-drinkers and non-diet-soda-drinkers alike, confirming suspicions that the "diet" label and zero-calorie contents may be too good to be true. One of these studies, presented to the American Diabetes Association in June, associated diet soda consumption with a waistline size increase 70% greater than non-users. These results, along with the results of several related studies, are in line with thinking suggesting diet or "light" foods and beverages may contribute to weight gain.

But Loyola University obesity specialist Jessica Bartfield, MD, thinks that we should take these studies with a grain of salt (or, if you prefer, aspartame). A release that came out today quotes her take on the issue:

"I suspect that people are likely drinking those diet sodas to wash down high-fat and high-calorie fast-food or take-out meals, not as a complement to a healthy meal prepared at home or to quench a thirst after a tough workout."

In other words, it's not the fake sugar in diet soda that causes weight gain--it's the lifestyle choices that usually accompany it. Switching from regular soda to zero-calorie diet varieties, she argues, may be tremendously effective as a weight-loss strategy--just as long as users aren't canceling it out with an otherwise high-calorie diet.

Bartfield also points out the importance, in the case of obesity studies, of taking all factors into account:

"The association studies are significant and provocative, but don't prove cause and effect," said Bartfield, who counsels weight-loss patients at the Chicago-area Loyola University Health System. "Although these studies controlled for many factors, such as age, physical activity, calories consumed and smoking, there are still a tremendous number of factors such as dietary patterns, sleep, genetics, and medication use that account for weight gain."

Dieters looking for a satisfying answer to their weight-loss questions may be annoyed by the back-and-forth on issues like these. Then again, if obesity were a straightforward issue, we'd have solved it already.

Photo by computerjoe

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