Study links diet soda to larger waistlines

San Jose Mercury NewsJuly 19, 2011 

— No good deed goes unpunished, and that seems to include reaching for diet sodas instead of the calorie-laden good stuff.

Before guzzling that artificially sweetened beverage in a haze of guilt-free carbonation, bear in mind that your diet soda may only be adding to your bottom line - or your waistline. At least that's the conclusion of a recently completed 12-year study.

The study looked at 474 people, ages 65 to 74, and found that, on average, those who drank diet sodas ended up with waistlines that increased three times more than those who avoided them.

People who consumed more than two diet sodas a day had waistlines that increased five times more than the nondiet-soda drinkers, who included people who drank water, juices and even regular sodas, said Helen Hazuda, chief of clinical epidemiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio and one of the study's investigators.

These results were comparable to similar studies in younger people, Hazuda said.

There isn't a single explanation as to why drinks with artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose or saccharin result in our having to squeeze our bulging bellies into larger pants.

Part of the reason could be psychological, Hazuda said. Some people splurge on calories in their food because they're saving on calories in their drinks. Think Big Macs, super-sized fries and diet Cokes.

Another factor Hazuda thinks plays a role is something called taste dysfunction. Because artificial sweeteners taste hundreds to thousands of times sweeter than regular sugar, our bodies come to expect sugary foods to be extremely sweet. So we start to seek out more sugar-laden options.

A third possible explanation is that our bodies are smarter than we think. When we suck down sweet things, our bodies register the sugary taste and wait for the accompanying calories, said Lillian Castillo, a public health dietitian in Santa Clara County, Calif.

But with artificial sweeteners, our bodies don't get the calories they expect, so we start to crave foods high in fat and sugar.

If water is just too bland, Castillo and Hazuda recommended adding slices of lemon or cucumber to brighten the flavor.

It may take a couple of months for your brain to adjust to the different flavors, but the research suggests if you want those six-pack abs, it doesn't look as if you'll be able to find them at the bottom of a six-pack of diet soda.

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