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Does Diet Soda Result in Weight Gain?

Mon, 10/29/2012 - 10:25am
Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog

Most of us want medical studies to provide clearer (more certain, more specific, more universal) indications than they actually provide. The conclusion of medical studies are often very clouded. Each person has a myriad of complex factors effecting how nutrition, activity and medication will affect us. Certain general conclusion can be drawn but it is very complex and difficult to universally state without various equivocations.

Advice For Diet Soda Lovers: Skip The Chips

Researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill found that diet soda drinkers who ate a so-called “prudent” diet, rich in fruit, fish, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and milk, were significantly less likely to develop metabolic syndrome over 20 years than those who ate a “Western diet” heavy in fried foods, meats and sugars.

Metabolic syndrome is a condition characterized by excess abdominal fat, elevated blood sugar, high blood pressure, elevated triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol. About 32 percent of the participants in the “Western diet” cluster developed the condition.

The question of whether diet soda truly helps people manage their weight turns out to be a very tough one to answer.

Conflicting findings abound. A large study published in the New England Journal of Medcine last year found that diet soda had no effect on weight. But another one, published in 2008, found that drinking more than three diet drinks a day led to weight gain.

I would like to know, with much greater certainty what nutritional and food related advice I need to consider when making my choices. To a significant degree I think there is going to be quite a bit of uncertainty (much more than we want) for at least the next 30 years (projecting far out into the future with any accuracy seems very difficult to me.

I am skeptical of purely correlational results. You can try to have similar subsets of people but that is actually hard and if you allow for similar groups and then let the choose something (like diet sodas or not) the chance of that actually being a significant choice that results in many other decisions being different between the subgroups seems a big risk (that makes accepting the correlation as evidence as risky). When you have a scientific explanation it makes the evidence much more compelling, but it is also easy to be taken in by explanations meant to fit the results of a study.

I can believe diet soda can do some bad things to your health. I believe if you are trying to reduce your weight by reducing calories drinking diet soda in place of sugary soda is a big help. I can believe drinking water instead of diet soda would be even better. I want caffeine and don’t like coffee. I have cut down drinking Mountain Dew to less than 2 a week. I have substituted diet soda over the last year. I am not sure that is the right choice, but it is the one I have made so far.

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