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Dr. Campbell: Diet soda vs water for your health - which is better?

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RALEIGH, N.C. - Recently published in the journal 'Obesity,' a group of researchers designed a trial in which they divided subjects (300 of them) into two groups—one group drank diet sodas and another group was designated as no diet soda but drank water. The study was done to see who had the better weight loss and outcomes. The results may surprise you.

Both participant groups received intensive coaching on successful techniques for weight loss, including regular feedback on the meals they logged in journals. Participants weighed, on average, just over 200 pounds at the start of the study.

While the typical participant banned from drinking diet sodas lost nine pounds over 12 weeks, those allowed to continue drinking diet soda lost, on average, 13 pounds in the same time period. That's a four pound difference.

Despite the study's results, I am very skeptical and would not recommend widespread application of these findings. First of all, it's important to know that this study was funded by the American Beverage Association.

Secondly, a weight loss program demands both diet changes and exercise, and requires a great deal of willpower. It is not clear in this study as to what exactly the calorie consumption was between the two groups—did one group consume more because they had to give up diet soda?

I suspect that the no diet soda group probably consumed more calories to make up for the sweetness high from the diet soda artificial sweeteners that the other group did not. Also, this was only a 12-week program—we have no idea if this effect can be taken out to longer time intervals.

This wasn't the first study of this kind. Published last year, Purdue University researchers reviewed a dozen studies published in the past five years that examined the relationship between consuming diet soda and health outcomes.

They then published an opinion piece on their findings in the journal 'Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism,' saying they were “shocked” by the results. In the study they found that diet sodas and artificial sweeteners do fulfill the body’s craving for sweets, but without calories. When the body does consume sweets that do have calories, the body is confused and does not release the hormones it should in response to the sugar load.

Diet soda drinkers in these studies tended to pack on extra pounds in response to the skewed body response to sugar. In fact, it is postulated that the reward centers in the brain are dampened by the diet soda and artificial sweetener exposure and may result in even more compulsive indulgences in real sweets. Most interestingly, diet soda drinkers who were able to maintain a reasonably healthy body weight were still at higher risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke—we don’t know the exact mechanism at this time but we need more research.

So, which is better?

While more research needs to be done, the best advice is to limit consumption. Our bodies need water and we must preferentially take in water over diet sodas in order to remain healthy. Water is your body's principal chemical component and makes up about 60 percent of your body weight. Every system in your body depends on water.

The Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake for men is roughly three liters (about 13 cups) of total beverages a day. The adequate intake for women is 2.2 liters (about nine cups) of total beverages a day.

If water is boring to you, spice it up—use sparkling waters or seltzers and add slices of lime or lemon!

To get in touch with Dr. Campbell, you can head to his website, Facebook page or message him on Twitter.

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