Are diet foods making us fat?

by Lauren Petr
Contributor and Registered Dietician 
for Plumgood Food

Next time you pick up that diet drink, think twice before taking a sip. If you think it’s going to help you lose weight, you could be sadly mistaken.

Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center recently reported that normal-weight individuals increase their risk of becoming overweight or obese by 41% for every can of diet soda they drank. Interestingly, their risk was only 30% for every can of regular soda they drank.

This is stark news to those of us who turn to diet or sugar-free versions of our favorite foods in order to cut unwanted calories. On the face of it, the research doesn’t seem to make sense. But there are two compelling theories for why people who consume diet foods gain more weight:

1. Conscious over-consumption: People knowingly eat more when they choose diet foods or drinks. This same phenomenon was seen during the fat-free craze when dieters continued to gain weight after switching to fat-free cookies. Rather than eating their typical 2 cookie portion, it turned out they were eating 4 of the fat-free treats.

2. Physiological adaptation: One study from Canada showed that young rats eating diet food during one meal were more likely to overeat at the next meal. This finding suggests that animals (and possibly humans too) may be able to associate low-calorie diet foods with a feeling of being unsatisfied and hungry, promoting over-eating later to compensate.

No matter how it works, these findings reinforce the concept that eating and drinking of all foods, including diet foods, should be done in moderation in order to maintain a healthy diet and weight. So what’s the easiest way to watch your calorie intake? Stock your kitchen with some of these naturally lower calorie foods:

  • Fat Free Milk and Yogurt
  • Dried or Canned Beans
  • Fresh Fruit and Vegetables
  • Whole Grain Breads
  • Vegetable Soups
  • Skinless Chicken Breasts

The good news is that you don’t have to cut out the items you love. Go ahead and enjoy a fully-sweetened vanilla latte, just order a tall rather than a grande. And instead of drinking diet soda all day, limit your self to one or two and reach for water after that. Maintaining a healthy diet isn’t so complicated after all, just remember – all things in moderation.

Lauren Petr, Plumgood Food’s registered dietician, answers questions about diet and nutrition for all Plumgood customers, free of charge. Lauren also can develop personalized meal and dietary plans for individual customers for an added fee. For more information, visit or contact Lauren at or (615) 248-4448 ext. 102.

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