Can diet soda actually help your diet? New research suggests that drinking zero-calorie soda can be more effective than drinking water when it comes to losing weight. But it's not as simple as tacking on a diet Coke to your massively unhealthy McDonald's order (which is a thing).
According to a new study funded by the American Beverage Association, consuming zero-calorie beverages other than water can aid weight loss by curbing hunger.
The study placed 303 participants on an weight loss and exercise program, then divided them into two groups. One group was told to drink only water, the other was instructed to drink a combination of "non-nutritive sweetened beverages" (diet soda, artificially sweetened teas) and water.
The numbers were convincing: after 3 months, the water group lost an average of 9 pounds, while the diet drink group lost about 13 pounds. The diet soda group "reported significantly greater reductions in subjective feelings of hunger than those in the water group during 12 weeks," the study concluded.
Despite the clear results, the science behind how diet soda impacts health and weight loss is far from conclusive. As NPR notes, previous studies have shown that diet soda can mess with metabolism and cause increased food consumption, neither of which are helpful for dropping pounds.
Critics of the study say that there are several missing links. For instance, what other beverages did the diet soda group consume? Did they consume any caloric beverages? Also, where does the long-term health consequences of diet beverages come into play?
"This paper is fatally flawed, and leaves us with little science to build on," Purdue University researcher Susie Swithers told NPR's The Salt.
The fact that the study was funded by the American Beverage Association (members include Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola companies) also raises questions for some. While industry-funded studies are regulated in order to separate the science from the money, several analyses show that, in general, an industry link can impact research results.
Until we find out more about long-term effects of artificial sweeteners on overall health, it could be worth experimenting with the occasional diet soda when you're feeling hungry.
Alexandra DiPalma is a producer for Fusion Lightworks, Fusion’s In-house Branded Content Agency.