No Weight Loss from Zero Calorie Drinks: True or False?

by Marixie Ann Obsioma
Published on May 25, 2022 and last updated for accuracy on June 14, 2022

Are you attempting to reduce your daily calories by substituting diet soda for regular soda? Do you like carbonated water with a hint of flavor, like Hint or LaCroix? Or, is it possible that you have invested in carbonating equipment, such as a SodaStream or a Drinkmate?

According to recent research, none of these options facilitate weight loss. Even worse, they may even cause an increase in body weight! The cause may surprise you. It came as a complete surprise to me. Learn more about the truth on no weight loss from zero calorie drinks below.

The issue with regular sodas goes beyond the number of calories they contain.

If you drink soda, two 12-ounce cans of ordinary Coke every day, switching to an alternative that has no calories will allow you to cut out 280 “empty” calories, which are calories that do not contribute to your daily nutritional needs. That amounts to 8,400 fewer calories consumed monthly, sufficient to lose over two and a half pounds. What exactly is the catch, then?

One cause for concern is the potential for diet sodas sweetened with artificial sweeteners to induce a desire for sugary, high-calorie items. Therefore, consuming other sugary products instead of whole foods and drinks like iced tea may add back even more calories, even though the calorie counts of a zero-calorie drink are decreasing. In experiments conducted on rodents, at least one type of artificial sweetener, known as aspartame, was discovered to cause damage to a brain region responsible for signaling to the animal when it is full (1).

The concept of “reverse causation” is one of the things that makes researching zero-calorie beverages and weight loss more difficult. It would appear that these beverages are to blame for the obesity epidemic because people who are at risk for obesity tend to choose these beverages (1).

Using artificial sweeteners has several significant risks to one’s health, the most notable of which is the potential for an increase in the chance of developing certain malignancies, cardiovascular disease, and kidney difficulties. However, there is not enough information to conclude this with absolute certainty (1).

Isn’t it fine to drink carbonated water as long as it doesn’t contain any artificial sweeteners?

When it comes to kicking the usual soda habit, it’s been common knowledge for a long time that the best choices are beverages that consist only of carbonated water and have no added artificial sweeteners. How could you make a mistake when there is not a single gram of sugar, not to mention calories or artificial sweeteners (2)?

However, a study conducted in 2017 on humans and rats calls into question the validity of this strategy.

To begin, let’s look at the rats. Over more than a year, male rats were given one of four drinks (2):

  • Water.
  • A standard carbonated drink.
  • A regular carbonated drink that had been allowed to go flat.
  • A diet-carbonated drink.

Please take note that they carbonated each of these drinks differently. They used natural sweeteners instead of artificial sweeteners in ordinary carbonated beverages (2).

The following is what the researchers discovered:

  • The rats that consumed either regular or diet carbonated beverages consumed significantly more food than the animals who drank water or flat soda.
  • The rats that consumed carbonated beverages, either regular or diet varieties, gained weight more quickly than those that drank water or flat soda.
  • After being exposed to carbonated beverages, the stomach tissue contained more ghrelin than it did after being exposed to non-carbonated drinks. Ghrelin is a hormone that regulates how much food one consumes.

Then we come to the humans: During one month, twenty male students drank five cocktails, one at each sitting of the experiment. The beverages consisted of water, regular soda, diet soda, soda that had been sitting around for a while, and carbonated water. Researchers evaluated the levels of ghrelin in their blood not long after that (2).

When students consumed any carbonated beverage, whether it was ordinary soda, diet soda, or water with added carbonation, their ghrelin levels increased to higher levels than when they drank water or flat soda (2).

It is plausible that drinking carbonated beverages could lead to hunger, increased food consumption, and weight gain. However, this study did not assess the students’ food intake or changes in weight after drinking various types of beverages. However, the increased ghrelin levels after consuming carbonated beverages make it plausible that these drinks could lead to these outcomes. And therein lies a reason for caution (2).

Why would consuming carbonated beverages cause your body to secrete more of the hunger hormone ghrelin? The authors hypothesize that pressure-sensitive cells in the stomach respond to the presence of carbon dioxide in carbonated beverages by raising their production of the hormone ghrelin (2).

What can we still drink?

The solution to that question is straightforward: plain water. Alternatives such as unsweetened green tea or black tea. Water flavored with key lime and other fruits like blueberry pomegranate are also worthy of consideration. Some sparkling water are good too!

It is important to stress that occasionally consuming ordinary soda or other fizzy beverages is not dangerous and should not be avoided. The question that needs to be answered is, what is your go-to drink, and what are the potential repercussions of that choice (3)?

Although drinking only water could be the healthiest option, many people do not find this the most appealing option. If you consume soda daily, it is in your best interest to switch from ordinary soda to no calorie beverages. If you watch the rest of your diet and pay attention to how much you weigh, drinking a fizzy beverage that is low in calories can still be an acceptable option (3).

There is a distinct chance that carbonated beverages may have unrecognized adverse effects on both hunger and weight, and this is a possibility that you should not discount. However, it would be premature to suggest that everyone stop drinking carbonated beverages to prevent the obesity pandemic from worsening (3).

Keep an eye out for upcoming studies evaluating the effects of various low-calorie beverages on a person’s health. While it is beneficial to have options, it is also helpful to be aware of the benefits and drawbacks of each choice (4).

Is diet soda good or bad?

Diet sodas are extremely well-liked beverages worldwide, particularly among those attempting to cut back on the amount of sugar or calories they consume.

Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, cyclamates, saccharin, acesulfame-k, or sucralose, are typically used to sweeten foods and beverages in place of sugar (4). 

Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Pepsi Max, Sprite Zero, and the like are just some of the many popular sugar-sweetened beverages that now have “light” or “diet” variants on the market  (4). They aren’t really zero calories.

Diet sodas were initially developed in the 1950s for people with diabetes. Still, they were subsequently marketed to those attempting to maintain a healthy weight or cut down on the amount of sugar they consumed. Diet drinks have become increasingly popular in recent years  (4).

The impact of diet beverages and artificial sweeteners on one’s health is debatable, even though they contain no sugar or calories.

Diet soda isn’t healthiest!

Carbonated water, an artificial or natural sweetener, colors, tastes, and several other food additives are the fundamental components of diet soda, which is otherwise known as diet soda  (4).

It typically has very few calories, sometimes perhaps none at all, and is devoid of any substantial nourishment. For instance, a can of Diet Coke that is 12 ounces (354 mL) in size and includes 40 mg of sodium does not contain any calories, sugar, fat, or protein  (4).

However, this does not hold for all drinks that utilize artificial sweeteners; some of them are still high in calories and include sugar. Some people combine the usage of sugar and artificial sweetener. For instance, one can of Coca-Cola Life, which has the all-natural sweetener stevia, has 24 grams of sugar and 90 calories  (4).

Carbonated water, artificial or natural sweeteners, colors, tastes, and additional components such as vitamins or caffeine are the components that go into making diet soda. Most of them have no calories or minimal calories and are devoid of vital nutrients (4).

In terms of weight loss, results are mixed.

You might think that because Diet Coke is usually free of calories, it will help you lose weight. Research, however, reveals that the relationship is not as simple as first thought  (4).

According to several observational studies, diet soda and artificial sweeteners have been linked to an increased risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome.

It’s been hypothesized that diet soda can increase hunger by affecting hunger hormones, sweet taste receptors, and dopamine responses in the brain, all of which are linked to increased food intake  (4).

Due to these responses, an increased intake of sweet or calorie-dense items may be caused by the lack of calories in diet soft drinks. On the other hand, human research provides inconsistent evidence to the contrary  (4).

According to another notion, poor nutritional habits may be more likely to increase their diet coke intake. Their weight increase may not be to blame for their weight increase, but rather their current eating habits (4).

According to scientific research, diet drinks do not induce weight gain. This research shows that switching to diet soda instead of sweetened beverages can lead to weight loss  (4).

For a year, overweight participants were asked to drink 24 ounces of diet Coke or water. The diet soda group lost an average of 13.7 lbs (6.21 kg) during the trial, whereas the water group lost an average of 5.5 lbs (2.5 kg).

There is also prejudice in the scientific literature, which adds to the confusion. If the artificial sweetener industry is funding more positive research than non-industry studies, the results may not be as reliable as they appear  (4).

More thorough studies will have to wait for more detailed studies.

Observational research has linked diet soda consumption to obesity. We don’t know if diet soda is to blame. Weight loss is effective in studies, but commercial financing could skew these results (5).

Some research has linked diet soda to increased diabetes and heart disease risk.

Although diet Coke has no calories, sugar, or fat, it has been related to developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease in multiple studies.

A single serving of an artificially sweetened beverage daily has been linked to an 8% to 13% increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

A 21% increased incidence of type 2 diabetes was found in a study of 64,850 women who drank artificially sweetened beverages. The danger posed by ordinary sugary drinks was halved, though. Similar findings have been reported in other investigations (5).

According to a new analysis, diet cola does not raise the risk of diabetes. Also, another study indicated that any link might be explained by participants’ existing health status, weight changes, and body mass index (5).

Increased risks of high blood pressure and heart disease have also been related to the consumption of diet sodas.

According to a study by four researchers involving 227,254 people, artificially sweetened beverages raise the risk of high blood pressure by 9% daily. Other research has shown comparable findings (5).

Observational data in one study suggested a modest increase in the risk of stroke from drinking diet soda.

This may be because most of the research was observational, which could lead to a different explanation. Drinking more diet, Coca-Cola may have been a conscious decision made by those predisposed to diabetes and high blood pressure (5).

It is necessary to do further in-depth experimental studies to discover whether diet soda causes elevated blood sugar or blood pressure.

Diabetes, hypertension, and an increased risk of stroke have all been related to the consumption of diet sodas. A lack of investigation into the probable causes has led to these results. They may be linked to preexisting risk factors like obesity (5).

Diet soda affects kidney health.

Chronic renal disease is connected to the consumption of diet soda.

Diet Coke consumption has been linked to an increased risk of developing the end-stage renal disease in a recent study that assessed the diets of 15,368 adults.

People who drank more than seven glasses of diet soda a week were roughly twice as likely to develop the renal disease as those who drank less than one glass a week.

Soda’s high phosphorus concentration may be to blame for the kidney damage, as it may raise the kidney’s acid load.

Many people who drink a lot of diet soda may be doing so to compensate for other unhealthy dietary and lifestyle habits that may contribute to renal disease.

Interestingly, studies on the impact of diet soda on the development of kidney stones have yielded conflicting findings.

Drinking diet soda may increase your risk of kidney stones, but the risk is significantly lower than drinking regular soda, according to one observational study. In addition, no additional studies have backed up the findings of this study (5).

According to another study, people with low urine pH and uric acid stones may benefit from some diet sodas’ high citrate and malate content. 

Observational studies have shown a link between the consumption of diet soda and the onset of renal disease. If this is the case, diet soda’s high phosphorus concentration may raise the acid load on the kidneys (5).

Childhood obesity and preterm birth are also linked to it.

Premature birth and childhood obesity have been linked to drinking diet Coke while pregnant.

Researchers in Norway found that pregnant women who drank artificially sweetened and sugary beverages were 11 percent more likely to give birth prematurely.

These findings are backed up by previous Danish research. Preterm births were 1.4 times more common in women who drank one serving of diet Coke per day than in those who did not.

A recent study of 8,914 women in the United Kingdom found no link between diet cola and preterm birth. They also noted that the trial was too small and restricted to diet soda (5).

However, these studies are purely observational and do not explain how diet soda may lead to preterm birth.

As a result, pregnant women who drink artificially sweetened beverages have a higher risk of having obese children. One study indicated that regular usage of diet drinks during pregnancy increased the likelihood of a baby becoming overweight at the age of one (5).

The long-term health effects of children exposed to artificially sweetened beverages during pregnancy need further study.

Preterm birth has been associated in extensive studies with diet soda consumption. An explanation for this has not yet been discovered. Diet soda use during pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk of obesity in children (5).

More research is needed to understand whether diet coke causes these health problems or if the findings are simply a product of chance.

Takeaway

If you’re concerned about heartburn or cancer risk, you may want to switch to diet soda. In addition, it has been linked to depression, osteoporosis, and tooth decay because of its effect on blood sugar regulation (1). 

This discrepancy in findings could be explained by the fact that most research is based on observation. Observing trends, but not knowing if diet soda use is a cause or merely a correlation, is what this study does (3).

However, despite the worrying findings, further high-quality studies are needed before you can judge diet soda’s health impacts.

Whatever the case, one thing is for sure! Drinking diet Coke does not provide any nutritional benefit.

When replacing regular soda in your diet, you may want to look into alternatives to diet soda. There are many alternatives to water, such as fresh fruit-infused water and fruit-flavored milk (5).

References:

  1. https://www.puregym.com/blog/are-diet-and-zero-calorie-drinks-bad-for-you/
  2. https://integracareclinics.com/why-zero-calorie-drinks-may-not-help-you-lose-weight/
  3. https://www.dmarge.com/zero-calorie-drink-myth-busted
  4. https://www.everydayhealth.com/weight/zero-calorie-food-myths.aspx
  5. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/zero-weight-loss-from-zero-calorie-drinks-say-it-aint-so-2021032222204
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