Artificial Sweeteners Increase Belly Fat, Study Finds

Artificial sweeteners have been linked to a number of health risks, some rather serious. Now, new research suggests another problem: belly fat.

Researchers followed 466 subjects over the age of 65 for close to ten years, looking at dietary and fitness habits, as well as measuring height, weight and waist circumference during the study period.

It turned out that people who drank the most diet soda (at least one drink per day) had a much steeper rise in waist circumference over the years than those who didn’t drink the stuff at all,” reports Forbes. “After adjusting for other variables like smoking status, age, activity level, and waist circumference at the start of each followup interval, the results were still striking: Waist circumference increased 0.8 inches for ‘non-users’ (that is, non-diet-soda-drinkers), 1.83 in for occasional users, and 3.16 inches for daily users.”

While the researches did not look at caloric intake, which could mean diet soda drinkers ate more foods (thinking they were skimping on calories via their diet drinks), it did draw a connection between the consumption of artificial sweeteners and belly fat.

The study author, Sharon Fowler said “The gut microbiome is like our personal inner rain forest. If our intestines are like an ecosystem, then highly acidic drinks like sodas day after day, may be comparable to acid rain. To borrow from Austin Powers, it’s not a consequence-free environment.”

Read more about your microbiome and how to keep it healthy

According to Forbes, this isn’t the first study to look at artificial sweeteners impact on the gut: “study last fall found altered ratios of gut bacteria (along with glucose intolerance) in both mice and men after drinking artificially sweetened drinks for a week. Gut bacteria are well known to affect how we digest and metabolize food, and if their ideal ratios are altered in any way, this may pave the way for overweight and obesity.”

Marion Nestle, author of the blog Food Politics, says the correlation may be psychological. “Belly fat is about genetics plus calorie balance. That’s the easiest explanation. There’s not much evidence that diet sodas help people lose weight (except in clinical trials) so it’s not hard to guess that people compensate for them by eating more.”

Read more about diet soda and its impact on your brain and body

Regardless of whether or not artificial sweeteners do lead to increased belly fat, one fact is indisputable: they’re not “real” food, and if we know anything about diet and health, it’s that the less adulterated a food is, the better it is for our bodies. 

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: LauraLewis

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By Jill Ettinger| March 19, 2015
Categories:  Eat

About the Author

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a freelance journalist and marketing specialist primarily focused on the organic and natural industries, she bridges her love for changing the food system with her lifelong passion for writing and connecting people in their shared values. You can connect with Jill on Twitter and Instagram.

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