There are numerous justifications for why consumers put diet drinks in their shopping baskets. Diet culture is frequently the driving cause behind this choice. However, a study published in JAMA Network Open suggests that beverages with artificial sweeteners may boost food desires, particularly in women and people who battle obesity.
“When the body doesn’t get the calories it’s expecting when you have those sweet flavors, it may cause a person to consume more to get them,” says registered dietitian Melissa Hooper, RD, of Bite Size Nutrition.
74 people who drank beverages containing so-called nonnutritive sweeteners (NNS), which include sugar substitutes including aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, and Rebaudioside-A, were the subjects of the study (also known as reb-A or stevia). Sucralose was the only sweetener used in this investigation. All of these items give calorie-free goods sweetness.
For both men and women, consumption also decreased levels of hormones associated with satiety, indicating that the beverages were not only ineffective in promoting feelings of fullness but caused participants to be hungrier. Researchers observed participants' brain activity in the 2 hours following consumption of NNS-sweetened beverages, showing increased activity in those regions.
As more people choose to lose weight by consuming foods and beverages with NNS sweeteners, the study's findings may become more worrisome. A study that examined purchasing patterns in American families from 2002 to 2018 was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. They discovered a decline in sugar intake but an increase in NNS. The study concluded that the switch from sugar to NNS is important. For instance, the consumption of sucralose-containing goods increased from 38% to 71%. The biggest change involved stevia, which went from 0.1% to 26%.
Drinks made up the majority of the change overall, according to Hooper, which is not surprising given the variety of NNS-fueled beverages on the market. However, consuming too many of those sweeteners, particularly when they are concentrated like those found in beverages, might have negative effects.
“While we don’t know the long-term effects of consuming nonnutritive sweeteners, we do know some sugar alcohols such as sorbitol and xylitol can cause diarrhea and bloating,” she says.
She continues by saying that the current study's findings are also not unexpected. NNS may enhance hunger because the body links sweet tastes to calories and energy, according to earlier research.
Because they believe that NNS-enhanced products are healthier than sugar, many individuals switch to them in place of sugar. The evidence on that strategy, however, is also equivocal. About 104,000 individuals were asked about their food choices over 18 months, including beverage varieties, and the data was compared to cardiovascular events in that group after 10 years.
They discovered that people who consumed sugary drinks and artificially sweetened beverages more frequently than others had greater rates of cardiovascular events. That implies that the "diet" drinks weren't any more protective than the non-NNS variety.
"Our study suggests the diet drinks may not be as healthy as people think, since the heart health issues may be similar to sugary drinks," says study lead author Eloi Chazelas, PhD(c), member of the Nutritional Epidemiology Research Team at Sorbonne Paris Nord University. "Evidence is not yet clear about how these artificially sweetened beverages affect cardiometabolic processes. It may come as a result of factors like altered gut microbiota, increased belly fat, or impaired glucose regulation."
According to Hopper, the conclusion from these and earlier studies may be that it is best to approach diet beverages the same way you would sugary ones. If you do consume these beverages, keep them to the infrequent range rather than reaching for them frequently.
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