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Sugar-free and ‘diet’ drinks no better for healthy weight than full sugar drinks

Sugar-free and ‘diet’ drinks are often seen as the healthier option, however, researchers from the Imperial College London argue that they are no more helpful for maintaining a healthy weight than their full-sugar counterparts.

The research was conducted by academics from Imperial College London, the University of Sao Paulo and the Federal University of Pelotas, Brazil. They provided a commentary on current research and policy into sweetened drinks. They found that not only were they sugar-free drinks no better from weight loss but that they may also be detrimental to the environment.

Artificially-sweetened beverages (ASBs) are alternatives to full-sugared drinks. They contain no sugar and are sweetened with artificial sweeteners instead. These ASBs are often referred as ‘diet’ versions and are perceived by consumers as the healthier option for those wanting to lose weight or reduce sugar intake. However, there has been no solid evidence to support the claims that they’re any better for health or prevent obesity and obesity-related diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes.

Senior Investigator from Imperial’s School of Public Health, Professor Christopher Millett, said ‘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. However, we found no solid evidence to support this.”

Sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), such as soft drinks, fruit flavoured drinks and sports drinks make up a third of UK teenagers’ sugar intake. Plus, nearly half of all sugar intake in the US. SSBs provide many calories but very few essential nutrients. Their consumption is a major cause of increasing rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

ASBs currently comprise a quarter of the global sweetened beverages market, but hey are not taxable or regulated to the same extent as SSBs. Researchers said this could be due to their perceived harmlessness.

Despite having little or no energy content, there’s a concern that ASBs might trigger compensatory food intake by stimulating sweet taste receptors. Together with the consumers’ awareness of low-calorie content, this could result in overconsumption of other foods.

Professor Millett and colleagues outlined the current evidence of the health effects of consuming ASBs. Although they found 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 their full sugar versions.

Additionally, the production of ASBs has negative consequences for the environment, with up to 300 litres of water being required to produce a 0.5L plastic bottle of carbonated soft drink.

The first author of the study from the Federal University of Pelotas, Dr Maria Carolina Borges, added ‘The lack of solid evidence on the health effects of ASBs and the potential influence of bias from industry-funded studies should be taken seriously when discussing whether ASBs are adequate alternatives to SSBs.’

Professor Carlos Monteiro, a co-author of the study from University of Sao Paolo, said ‘Taxes and regulation on SBS and not ASBs will ultimately promote the consumption of diet drinks rather than plain water — the desirable source of hydration for everyone.’

The authors concluded, ‘Far from helping to solve the global obesity crisis, ASBs may be contributing to the problem and should not be promoted as part of a healthy diet.’

Source: PLOS One

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Hi, I’m Hannah, marketing assistant and one of the bloggers here at Human Kinetics Europe. I wasn’t blessed with the coordination to play most sports, but that’s not stopped me becoming a great watcher of them. Particularly when it comes to football! So I’m here to bring you all you need to know about exciting new product releases and the latest in sport, fitness and PE.

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