If you’re doing your part to maintain a healthy lifestyle, purging large quantities of sugar from your diet is a pretty good move. With that in mind, many soda lovers turn to sugar-free versions of their favorite drinks in the hopes of cutting calories while still enjoying the tastes that they crave.
On the surface, substituting a sugary beverage for a drink with zero sugar and zero calories sounds like a win/win, but new research suggests that the big picture impact isn’t as uplifting as you might think. In a new report published in Current Atherosclerosis Reports, researchers examined the health records of over 5,000 US adults and found that drinking “diet” soda is actually linked in increased weight gain in the long term.
The paper touches on a number of interesting things, including the idea that individuals who choose to consume sugar-free varieties of popular drinks may be setting themselves up for a downfall later.
“Consumers of artificial sweeteners do not reduce their overall intake of sugar,” Professor Peter Clifton, lead author of the research, explains. “They use both sugar and low-calorie sweeteners and may psychologically feel they can indulge in their favourite foods.”
Those mental gymnastics may lead sugar-free drinkers to feel free to binge on other high-calorie foods and drinks later, effectively negating any benefits they gained by opting for zero-calorie treats.
On top of that, some of the ingredients in zero-calorie drinks may actually impact digestive health as well. “Artificial sweeteners can also change the gut bacteria which may lead to weight gain and risk of type 2 diabetes,” Clifton says.
None of this is to say that zero-calorie beverages don’t have a place in a healthy diet, but relying on them heavily and indulging in them on a daily basis — perhaps even multiple times a day — may be setting you up for disaster.