Diet soda is much lower in calories than regular soda. In fact, most diet sodas are calorie-free. Because of this, switching from regular to diet soda seems like it would aid in weight loss. However, studies show that this is generally not the case.
Diet Drinks and Weight Gain
Numerous studies and reviews recognize that it makes sense that calorie-free diet drinks should be beneficial for weight loss when used in place of higher-calorie sugary drinks, but the opposite typically occurs. A review published in 2013 in Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism reports that evidence suggests people who consume diet drinks containing calorie-free artificial sweeteners may be at risk for excessive weight gain, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Another review published in 2010 in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine notes that several large studies found artificial use is indeed associated with weight gain.
Why It Occurs
Drinking diet soda isn't a guarantee you'll gain weight, but consuming diet drinks is associated with behaviors that can lead to weight gain. The author of the review published in 2010 in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine reports that artificial sweeteners interfere with the normal food reward pathway in your brain, and because diet soda tastes sweet it can lead to sugar cravings and sugar addiction. Diet soda doesn't give your body energy or fill you up, often leaving you craving calories and sweet foods.
Is Regular Soda Better?
While diet soda may increase your risk for weight gain, drinking regular soda isn't the answer either. Sugar-sweetened beverages -- such as regular sodas -- are associated with weight gain, overweight, obesity and increased chronic disease risks, according to a review published in 2010 in Diabetes Care. A can of soda generally contains about 150 calories from sugar. These empty calories can add up, especially if you're drinking more than one can of soda daily. And although regular soda may provide you with a quick burst of energy, it won't keep you full for long and doesn't provide you with beneficial nutrients like protein, fiber, healthy fats, vitamins or minerals.
How to Avoid Weight Gain
When you're trying to avoid weight gain, skip the soda, diet soda, lemonade, sweet tea and other sugary drinks. Water is one of the best beverage choices if you're trying to avoid weight gain or lose weight. Drink a glass of cold water before meals to fill you up and help you eat less at meal time. If you don't like the taste of water, try flavoring it with mint leaves, lemon or cut-up fruit. Low-fat milk and soy milk are other excellent options because they are low in calories, help fill you up, and are rich in protein, calcium and vitamin D. Regular exercise is also important when you want to avoid weight gain.
An experienced health, nutrition and fitness writer, Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian and holds a dietetics degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also has worked as a clinical dietitian and health educator in outpatient settings. Erin's work is published on popular health websites, such as TheNest.com and JillianMichaels.com.