All those diet soft drinks consumed in the name of keeping off the pounds may have had the opposite effect. New research shows that diet sodas are actually fattening, particularly for seniors, according to new research.
A study found that people over 65 who drink low-calorie sodas daily can get increased amounts of fat around their belly. In fact, people who regularly drank diet soft drinks increased their waists by three inches during the nearly decade long study.
Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio followed 749 people who were 65 years old at the onset for more than nine years. They tracked their weights, waist sizes and diets.
They found that people who did not consumer sodas regularly experienced a waist size increase of an average of 0.80 inches during the study period. As reported in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, the people who drank an average of a can of soda every day put an extra three inches (3.16 inches on average) on their waist during the study. Even people who drink sodas only occasionally had twice waist gain of those who drank none of the carbonated beverages.
“The more people drank diet sodas, the more their waistlines expanded,” commented Sharon Fowler, who was one of the University of Texas study’s lead authors. Expanding waistlines are greater medical concerns than weight gain elsewhere, because more fat around the belly can increase a person’s risk of heart disease or developing type 2 diabetes.
The University of Texas scientists did not explore the reasons behind the link between carbonated diet beverages and more inches in the waist area. However, it is possible that people who regularly choose to drink diet products might be predisposed to gaining weight.
The researchers did have some other theories on why the diet sodas resulted in increased amounts of belly fat. One theory is that the body does not know the difference between the artificial and regular sweeteners. The fact is that diet sodas use sweetening agents that create sweetness levels comparable to between 200 to 600 times that of sugar-filled beverages.
People’s bodies think that a sweet taste means they are ingesting energy in the form of calories. “If you don’t burn them off, (they are) going to convert to fat,” commented Helen Hazuda, one of the other study authors. Artificial sweeteners do not normally have the same effect; regular consumption, however, tricks the brain and weakens the link the brain makes between sweetness and calories, she noted. They lead to weight gain and cravings for more sweet treats, according to the theory.
One suggestion the research team made is that people should consider reducing their consumption of diet soda. The more people try to duplicate “things they love about diet sodas with something else that is really a whole food, the better,” Fowler added.
The low- and reduced-calorie food and beverage industry association, needless to say, disagreed with the researchers’ findings that diet soda are fattening. They note the lack of a proven cause and effect. Using low-calorie sweeteners (LCSs) to manage weight “has been shown to be beneficial,” the council said in a statement. “Diet modifications can be a successful part of a weight-management program for older adults.”
By Dyanne Weiss