Diet drinks make no difference to weight gain and should not be seen as healthier than their sugary versions, researchers claim.
Researchers from Imperial College London and two Brazilian universities assert that industry-funded studies, which found that diet drinks can help weight loss, may have been biased.
Professor Christopher Millett from Imperial’s School of Public Health says that their analysis has found no solid evidence to support claims that artificially-sweetened beverages (ASBs) are any better for health or prevent obesity and obesity related diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
“A common perception, which may be influenced by industry marketing, is that because ‘diet’ drinks have no sugar, they must be healthier and aid weight loss when used as a substitute for full sugar versions,” he said.
Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) such as soft drinks, fruit-flavoured drinks, and sports drinks, count for a third of U.K. teenagers’ sugar intake, and nearly half of all sugar intakes in the U.S. SSBs are full of calories but very few essential nutrients; with their consumption a main cause of increasing rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes. While ASBs currently contain a quarter of the global sweetened beverages market, they are not taxed or regulated to the same extent as SSBs – perhaps due to their alleged harmlessness, the academics assert.
Accordingly, researchers worry that people who switch to sugar-free fizzy drinks may eat more because they feel that they are being healthy and still crave sweet foods.
“Although there was no direct evidence for a role of ASBs in weight gain, they found that there was no evidence that ASBs aid weight loss or prevent weight gain compared with the full sugar versions,” researchers said, adding that water remains the best drink for dieters.
The report authors also believe the production of ASBs has “negative consequences” for the environment, as they claim that up to 300 litres of water is required to produce a single half-litre plastic fizzy soft drink bottle.
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