Why researchers who study artificial sweeteners avoid diet drinks
J Thoendell stashed this in Food
"So there are some studies that are reporting that consuming diet beverages actually contributes to weight gain," said Malik. "Others report consuming diet beverages contribute to an increased risk of diabetes. Others say that's not the case, that these studies are flawed." Malik predicts we'll have firmer answers in five years, as more studies are done.
Susan Swithers, a professor at Purdue University who has studied artificial sweeteners, agreed that the evidence is still murky. "Anybody who claims the consequences of diet soda for weight are clear is not understanding what the bulk of the literature actually says," she told me.
Part of that murkiness could be due to the fact that people who drink diet beverages are fundamentally different somehow from those who don't. People who choose to drink diet pop over regular soda might do so, for instance, because they already have weight troubles — which could confound the results.
Even so, scientists are increasingly questioning whether artificial sweeteners are as benign as they seem. One 2015 study in the British Medical Journal analyzed all the best available research on the association between sugar-sweetened beverages, artificially sweetened drinks, juices, and Type 2 diabetes. What they found was startling: Regular consumption of sugary drinks was associated with diabetes — but so was consumption of diet drinks. (Other research on diabetes has come to similar conclusions, though the weight of evidence suggests artificial sweeteners don't cause cancer.)
One key question is why diet soda might be so bad for your health. In the absence of a firm answer, researchers have come up with several hypotheses.
From personal experience I can tell you that giving up diet soda led to me losing a lot of weight.
I'm not sure if diet soda was a trigger food that led to my eating more, or if diet soda itself affected my microbiome.
It may be something about the artificial sweeteners in diet sodas themselves.
Some researchers have wondered whether these sweeteners affect our gut flora — the bacteria in our digestive tracts that helps with metabolism (and many other critical bodily functions).
Emerging evidence — albeit from research that's only been done on rodents — suggests the chemicals in artificial sweeteners cause disturbances in the gut, which are associated with metabolic disorders like diabetes and obesity.
There’s also research that suggests fake sweeteners work on the brain in weird ways.
Diet drinks seem to affect sugar cravings, for one thing. Experimental research in humans has found that the taste of sweetness, whether real or artificial, can boost appetite and cause people to eat more.
Other small studies suggest that when people are given sucralose, they experience a rush of insulin that doesn't lead to a decrease in blood glucose levels, as if the artificial sweetener is preventing the insulin from being as effective as it ought to be. This is the hallmark of insulin resistance and a harbinger of diabetes.
The underlying idea here is that fake sugars throw off our responses to real sugar. Our bodies and brains are conditioned to deal with sweetness in a certain way. When we taste something sugary, our body releases hormones like insulin and gears up energy for metabolism, so that when the sugar and calories hit our gut we're prepared to deal with them.
When you introduce artificial sweeteners, the body gets ready for sugar — which then doesn’t arrive. "The learned responses get blunted or go away," explained Swithers. "Your body says, 'Wait a minute, the last time I tasted something sweet, I didn’t get anything. This time, I don’t know what’s going to happen, so I’m not going to get ready to metabolize that much energy.'" (This theory aligns with the mounting evidence that artificial flavors may fool our sensory systems in other ways, leading us down the path to bad health.)
I'm glad that you stopped drinking diet soda, Adam.
I'm glad I stopped drinking diet soda too, Beth!
Replacing diet beverages with water helps with weight loss: