Are Diet Foods Really Helping With Your Diet?


After reading another student's blog post about diet soda inhibiting weight loss, I wanted to do further research in the area of diet foods.  Turns out, many people have their speculations about these foods.  David Pierce, a researcher at the University of Alberta, conducted a study on rats to test the effectiveness of diet foods.


Peirce trained the rats through Pavlovian conditioning to associate low-calorie foods with diet foods and high-calorie foods with regular food.  Therefore, when the rats had the high-calorie food that was flavored with the low-calorie food, they weren't satisfied.  Their bodies were expecting more calories than they were actually consuming.  Therefore, these rats overate at their feeding time to make up for the calories they were missing before.  I think this concept in rats can be transferred over to work similarly with humans.


This study with rats can be used to explain similar results found in humans.  A study done at the University of Texas claimed that people who drank diet soda regularly had 41% risk of becoming overweight compared to just a 30% risk for people who drank regular sugary drinks.


Pierce does admit that there are many third variable factors that could effect this observation.  For example, the people who are drinking diet sodas might already be overweight and are drinking them in the effort to lose weight.  However, his experiment with the mice did spark some interesting points about the human body wanting to make up for the calories or sugar its not receiving when consuming diet foods.  There are no definitive links; but there could be an interesting association there.


Additionally, claims that there are many hidden ingredients in diet foods.  Packaging that claims "low fat" or "sodium" might be making up for its loss with other unhealthy ingredients.  For example, ice cream that says its sugar-free might contain an unhealthy amount of high-fructose corn syrup which can also lead to weight gain.


There are many reasons why diet foods are harmful even though nothing as been definitively proven yet.  There is a solid association between diet food and weight gain because your body is craving what it's not getting; therefore, compensating by overeating.  However, we cannot say that diet foods are the actual cause of weight gain.  There are probably some biological and genetic influences that play a role.  Additionally, things like environment and socio economic status most likely influence weight gain.  This area is definitely worth doing more studies on.


If it turns out to be true that diet foods actually do more harm than good with regards to weight loss, the food industry is in for a real shock.





Aside from dissatisfaction with the taste of low-calorie food urging someone to eat more until satisfaction, I've also heard that people will tend to simply eat larger portions of "diet" foods because each serving contains less calories than a serving of the non-diet version. Therefore, the person ends up consuming just as many - if not more - calories than they would if they were to eat the non-diet version in its suggested serving size.

Many "diet" foods that are made to satisfy your sweet cravings may actually end up intensifying your sweet cravings. Many have claimed that artificial sweeteners, such as Aspartame (from which the popular arti-sweetener Equal is derived), have been proven to increase our appetite as it satisfies our taste bud cravings, but our body remains aware of the false calorie-intake and craves the amount it was originally looking for. If this is true, it is all a matter of self control.

As for diet soda, I've heard endless lectures about how it is no better for you than regular soda. In fact, an article posted on the Examiner website just a day ago lists three main reasons why diet soda may actually be worse for you. A study by the University of Minnesota showed result of metabolic sydrome being more common in diet soda drinkers.

Of course all of these correlations come with the questions you brought up: Is there a third variable? Do all diet soda drinkers share a habit that leads to these diseases? Are soda drinkers in general more likely to have extensive poor diet choices?

Although these diet foods may be a cause of weight gain, they have not been proven to create other health problems as people have claimed. You can read my blog on this information here.

I think this post bring up a lot of good points. I have been trying to eat healthy for a really long time and have found that eating all those special diet foots really doesn't help. One thing that I have always thought is that using the word "diet" on packages is something producers use to make consumers buy their product. There is a craze now for losing weight and all of these speical foods that probably don't work. I wrote an article about this here after i read yours ( if you're interested. I wrote about how they say things are fat free but really they take out some of the fat and add more sugar, which increases cravings. I suggest that anyone trying to go on a diet eat things without a lot of sugar, and has lots of fruits and vegetables. Good article, it inspired one of my own!!

I was going to say something really similar to Tal on the subject of diet food and its contents. Since that rat study is observational, the scientists may have attributed the rat behavior in that case to "the body expecting more calories," but I believe a stronger point is that diet foods in the US are fat-free and full of sugar, which causes us to overeat. Since sugar stimulates appetite and triggers reward systems in the brain, removing all of the fat from foods and then adding sugar to make it more palatable (as diet food companies do) doesn't seem conducive to staying compliant on a diet despite the lower calories. My guess is that the rats had a very hard time finding satiation from diet food and felt a compulsion to keep eating. What do you think?

Personally, I think diet foods are more harmful than helpful. They do not satisfy my hunger nor do they make my body feel good. One thing I picked up from working at a gym from the nutritionists is that "noting is free". By this they mean a product that is "fat free" or "sodium free" are not really free they are just replaced with something else that is equally as unhealthy. Skimping out on the fat can spike up the sodium so that this combination of chemicals can actually taste like food. They have many more artificial preservatives and chemicals than regular food. I found this example on a health blog. Compare the ingredients of Lay’s Classic Potato Chips- Potatoes, Corn and/or Cottonseed Oil And Salt with those of Lay’s Light Original Fat Free Potato Chips -Potatoes, Olestra, Salt, Alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Tocopherols, Vitamin K, And Vitamin D.

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