- A new study has found a link between drinking diet sodas and higher consumption of both calories and sugar.
- Researchers analysed data from US children and teens and found there was little difference in calorie intake overall between those who drank sugary drinks and those who drank artificially-sweetened alternatives.
- This was because the calories saved by the diet soda drinkers were made up in food calories later on.
- Both groups also consumed more added sugar than the youths who only drank water.
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The debate around how bad diet sodas and low-calorie, artificially-sweetened beverages really are for you has been raging for years.
Specifically, whether they’re useful for those looking to lose weight is a contentious issue – while some people say there’s no way a drink could make you gain fat if it doesn’t contain any calories, others maintain that diet drinks make people crave more food afterwards, and thus eat more.
A new study has now reinforced the latter: researchers from George Washington University have concluded that the calories saved when someone opts for a diet soda over the regular version are offset because they then consume more calories in food later.
The research, which was conducted on children and teenagers, found that those who drank low- or zero-calorie sweetened beverages ate 200 extra calories every day compared to those who only drank water.
To reach these conclusions, the researchers analysed dietary data from 7,026 children and teens who were part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2011 until 2016, where they reported what they were eating and drinking over a 24-hour period.
This allowed the researchers to note which youths had reported drinking sugary sodas, diet alternatives, or just water.
Those who drank diet sodas, sugary versions, or both were found to consume a total of 196, 312, and 450 more calories respectively compared to those who only drank water, after the researchers adjusted for body weight.
In terms of sugar intake, low-calorie soda drinkers, regular sugary soda drinkers, and those who drank both were found to consume 14, 39, and 46 extra calories from added sugar respectively compared to the water drinkers.
For the drinkers of diet soda, which normally contains few or no calories, these calorie counts consisted predominantly of food, while for the others, the counts included both calories from the soda and food.
Consuming the combination of both full-sugar and diet sodas together was found to result in the highest overall calorie consumption.
“These results challenge the utility of diet or low-calorie sweetened beverages when it comes to cutting calories and weight management,” said lead study author Allison C. Sylvetsky, PhD, an assistant professor of exercise and nutrition sciences at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH).
“Our findings suggest that water should be recommended as the best choice for kids and teens.”
With nearly one in three US children now classed as overweight or obese, the study authors hope their findings will shine a light on how drinking diet beverages is linked to consuming more calories, and sugar in particular.
While many health professionals advise people who need to lose weight make the switch from regular to diet versions of their favourite drinks, this is largely meant to be considered a stepping stone on the way to drinking only water.
The new research reinforces the findings of a study published at the beginning of 2019 which found that replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners in soft drinks has no effect on weight loss.
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