July 30, 2014 at 1:00 am

To Your Health

Artificial sweeteners' link to weight unclear

Dear Dr. Roach: I am currently dieting and, with that, trying to reduce my sugar intake. I prefer drinks sweetened with aspartame over water most of the time. Am I asking for trouble?

P.C.

Dear Dr. Roach: Im curious how diet soda, which has zero calories, causes one to gain weight. In studies that say that, do they look at people who have had diabetes for years and use artificial sweeteners without gaining weight? People will use ANY excuse for their weight. To blame a no-calorie sweetener seems a bit silly, dont you think?

V.W., R.D.N.

Dear V.W.: There remains confusion about artificially sweetened beverages and their effect on weight gain and on overall health. There are two schools of thought: The first is that artificially sweetened beverages satisfy the desire for sweets, so people are less likely to consume more. The second is that diet soda, without any actual calories, provokes greater desire for sweets.

I do think that using studies is not silly, and might help sort this out. What I found was that in a 2009 study, those who drank more diet soda were more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. This was confirmed in a 2013 study. It doesnt prove that drinking the diet soda was the cause of the increased diabetes risk, but it is a consistent association.

By contrast, a 2014 study (funded by the American Beverage Institute) showed that, among a group of people in a weight-loss program, a greater degree of weight loss was seen among participants who were allowed to continue drinking diet soda compared with a group allowed to drink only water.

Alas, scientific studies dont give us a definitive answer. Clearly, drinking diet soda is much, much better than drinking sugar-sweetened beverages. I will have to use my knowledge of biology and give my opinion that water is preferred over artificially sweetened beverages, but I cant prove it. I would say if you are still having trouble losing weight on diet soda, try switching to water to see if it helps.

Finally, blaming a particular food or blaming the person trying to lose weight is not likely to help that person reach a goal.

Dear Dr. Roach: Im a home health nurse. Many of my patients think that because something has been cooked and then refrigerated, it will stay good indefinitely! How long should you realistically keep food that is refrigerated? Thank you.

S.C.

Dear S.C.: Of course, the answer depends on the specific type of food, but a good rule of thumb is three to four days for cooked food. I found more exact recommendations at foodsafety.gov /keep/charts/storagetimes.html.

Email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.