Diet soft drinks have raised suspicion for some time.
There have been concerns that the mix of artificial sweeteners and preservatives may have neurological implications, and questions have been raised about the impact they have on our appetite and cravings for sweet foods.
Diet soft drinks are heavily promoted as a low-calorie solution to traditional soft drinks, which contain as many as nine teaspoons of sugar per serve. The diet versions claim to offer all the satisfaction of sweet fizzy drink, minus the sugar and calories.
Now, research completed by George Washington University has thrown out the window the idea that diet soft drinks are a solution to calorie control. The study found those who regularly drank Diet Coke and other diet drinks as part of their daily diet consumed an average of 200 extra calories each day.
The study based its results on the diet records of more than 7000 US children and teenagers. It was found kids who regularly consumed diet soft drinks consumed an average of 196 extra calories per day, while those who consumed regular soft drink consumed an average of 312 extra calories per day. This was compared to those who consumed water as their daily fluid of choice. While the research was not specifically associated with weight gain, researchers noted that those who consumed diet soft drinks routinely also consumed more added sugars in their diet. This in turn would be predictive of a higher sugar intake overall and weight gain long term.
One of the powerful selling points of diet drinks is their low or zero sugar and calorie contents. The findings of this study suggest there does not appear to be any significant benefit from drinking diet soft drinks and that both regular and diet soft drinks impact negatively on our overall sugar and calorie intake. It also appears consuming sweet drinks — whether they contain actual sugar or a sweetener that increases the desire for sweet foods — drives consumption of extra sugars and calories. Many popular diet drink brands still use the artificial sweetener aspartame (951) as their primary sweetener. Up to 200 times sweeter than sugar itself, it is hypothesised that priming the brain to seek out this intensely sweet flavour may partially explain the relationship between drinking diet soft and then craving and eating more sweet foods and calories overall.
As is the case with many areas of our dietary intake, the reality is an occasional can of diet soft drink is unlikely to do any harm. The issue is that, for many of us, consumption builds over time. Before you know it, you are drinking multiple serves of diet drinks daily. Most importantly, the study shows it is not just about the diet soft drinks, rather the impact they have on our overall food consumption. For some reason, drinking diet drinks leads us to eat more sugar and more calories — the opposite reason why many of us choose them.
The take home message is simple. There is nothing good about soft drink — diet or regular. The less of both we drink, the better. Drink water, and you will naturally eat less and eat less sugar, which will only have positive benefits for your weight and your health.