Does Diet Soda Cause Belly Fat
A potential culprit for that protruding belly can be diet soda or beverages with artificial sweeteners. One recent study shows a link between the high consumption of diet drinks and the increase of belly fat in older adults.
We’re all familiar with the effects of sugar on our waistline, but have you ever considered how diet sodas might affect your weight? In a new study published in the August 2013 issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers found that people who drank more than four servings (12 fluid ounces) of artificially-sweetened soft drink per day were at greater risk for having an increased waist circumference compared to those who drank less than one serving. The average age of participants was 65 years old; none had diabetes, hypertension or heart disease.
The research team analyzed data from more than 13,000 men and women participating in two ongoing long-term studies, the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and the Nurse’s Health Study. Participants completed questionnaires about their dietary habits and physical activity levels every few years over a 20-year period. During this time, they also underwent annual measurements of height, weight and abdominal obesity using a body composition analyzer called bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA). This is a noninvasive technique used to measure lean mass, bone mineral content, total body water, and other components of human body composition. It works by sending small electrical currents through the body to determine its overall resistance. Resistance indicates muscle tissue density and hydration level.
During each health assessment, the researchers asked the volunteers about their current frequency of daily intake of artificially-sweetened carbonated beverages — including diet sodas, seltzer and tonic waters, and fruit juices/nectars. They also inquired about any history of regular alcohol use, smoking status and exercise frequency.
After accounting for factors known to influence abdominal obesity like gender, race, socioeconomic background, education, family history of type 2 diabetes, leisure-time physical activity, self-reported sleep quality, sodium excretion rate, caloric intake, and hormone replacement therapy among postmenopausal women, the authors discovered that drinking more than 12 fluid ounces of artificially-sweetened beverage per day led to a higher chance of abdominal obesity. Women consuming this amount of soda daily had 31 percent higher odds of abdominal obesity, while men consuming it had 18 percent higher odds.
What’s interesting about this finding is that the subjects did not report changes in their eating patterns or exercise routines during the course of the study. So why would these lifestyle choices seem to make such a difference?
Although we’ve long been aware of the dangers of too much sugar, such as tooth decay, cavities and weight gain, there has been little evidence linking diet drinks directly to obesity. But according to lead researcher Dr. David L. Goldhamer, director of the Nutrition Research Center at Stanford University, the findings are significant because they show a direct effect of diet drinks on abdominal obesity. He says that previous studies have shown only indirect connections between diet drinks and obesity via metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome refers to several conditions that can raise the risk of cardiovascular disease, including insulin resistance, elevated triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol and high blood pressure.
“There are many reasons why some people may choose to consume more diet drinks,” he explains. “It could be due to taste preferences, caffeine content, or simply that they feel thirsty.” However, most people don’t realize that many popular brands contain added sugars. And since the labels do not always disclose this information, people might unknowingly ingest extra calories without realizing it.
Dr. Goldhamer believes that the best way to avoid excess calorie intake from diet drinks is to switch to healthier alternatives. These include unsweetened teas, coffee, 100-percent fruit juice and sports drinks made from fresh fruits, which are naturally lower in calories than commercial ones. “People should know what ingredients are in the products they choose to consume so they can better understand the impact they may have on their health,” he says.
Another important point to consider when discussing the connection between diet drinks and obesity is that most Americans get plenty of their daily recommended amounts of vitamins, minerals and fiber from other foods besides sugar-laden sodas. For example, milk contains calcium, cheese provides protein and vitamin D, and whole grain breads provide carbohydrates. If you consume enough of them, they will help keep you healthy even if you drink one sugary soda per week.
So, does diet soda cause belly fat? Not necessarily. Although the researchers believe that the reason why this particular group of people has more problems with abdominal obesity is likely related to genetics, environment, and lifestyle, they cannot say definitively that diet soda causes it. Rather, they believe it contributes to it, just as sugar does.
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