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17 January 2014

Diet drinks can make you eat more

Heavy Americans who drink diet beverages rather than those sweetened with sugar appear to actually eat more.

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Heavy Americans who drink diet beverages rather than those sweetened with sugar appear to eat more, according to a study that raised questions about the role lower-calorie drinks play in helping people lose weight.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University analysed data from a US survey of 24 000 people over a period of 10 years. People who were overweight or obese generally consumed the same amount of calories a day no matter what they drank, but those who chose diet drinks got more of those calories from food.

Outside experts were quick to caution that it is not clear what role, if any, diet drinks such as low- or no-calorie versions of sodas, sports drinks and teas played for people who ate more.

Statistically significant

In the study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, overweight drinkers of diet beverages in the United States ate 1 965 in food calories a day compared to 1 874 calories among heavy people who drank regular sugar-sweetened beverages.

Among obese diet beverage drinkers, those who consumed low- or no-calorie drinks ate 2 058 calories a day in food versus 1 897 food calories for those who had regular drinks, researchers said.

Such differences were statistically significant, they added.

Read: Diet drinks up diabetes risk

Lead author Sara Bleich said the results, when paired with other research, suggest that artificial sweeteners may affect people's metabolism or cravings, although more study is needed.

She acknowledged that people could be deciding to eat more since they are saving calories with their diet drinks.

"The push to diet soda may not make a lot of sense if you are then also eating more solid food," Bleich said. "The switch from a sugary beverage to a diet beverage should be coupled with other changes in the diet, particularly reducing snacks."

Artificial sweeteners

Critics said the analysis, based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey between 1999 and 2010, is flawed and that it is too early to say what, if any, role the low-calorie drinks or their artificial sweeteners play in weight loss.

Several researchers noted that the study did not track a set group of people over time and only looked at a 24-hour snapshot of what any individual consumed.

Read: Diet drinks make cocktails more potent

The beverage industry, which has long promoted diet drinks as an alternative to full-calorie beverages, defended such alternatives to help manage weight.

"Losing or maintaining weight comes down to balancing the total calories consumed with those burned through physical activity," the American Beverage Association said in a statement.

Low- or no-calories drinks contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose. Many beverage companies are also turning to other alternatives, such as the extract of Stevia.


Read more:

Diet drinks may not fuel your appetite

Diet drinks 'as bad as meth addiction'


 
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