How diet soft drinks trick you into eating junk food

Do you enjoy a Diet Pepsi or a Coke Zero? Maybe you choose low-calorie ginger beer or lemonade? If so, you’ve probably heard that they aren’t so good for your health – with studies linking diet soft-drink to weight gain, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease.

Now a new study has shown that diet soft-drinks may trick us into eating more junk food.

According to research by Dr Ruopeng An, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois diet soft-drinkers tend to believe they are “saving” calories by choosing diet versions over “full fat”.

But this can lead them to consume more of what doctors call “discretionary foods” over the course of a day, that is, foods that don’t belong to any major food group and are not required by the human body to function.

These foods, which tend to be high in sugar, sodium and saturated fat, contributed an average of 482 calories each day, around 20 per cent of the daily energy requirement for the average woman.

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The study examined the eating habits of 22,000 people and compared the overall intake of discretionary foods versus healthy foods for people who chose coffee, full-sugar soft drinks, diet soft-drinks, tea or alcohol as their preferred beverage.

Unsurprisingly, those who chose to drink alcohol had the largest overall calorie intake, followed by the sugar-sweetened soft-drinkers. Interestingly, coffee and diet-soda drinkers consumed fewer calories overall, but more of these were obtained from junk food.

Dr An said that this suggests a possible compensation effect.

“It may be that people who consume diet beverages feel justified in eating more, so they reach for a muffin or a bag of chips,” he said, as reported in Medical Daily.

“Or perhaps, in order to feel satisfied, they feel compelled to eat more of these high-calorie foods.”

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Another possibility is that people choose diet beverages because they feel guilty about eating junk food.

“It may be one  — or a mix of  — these mechanisms,” Dr An said. “We don’t know which way the compensation effect goes.”

The outcome of this research is that swapping diet beverages for regular versions won’t help you lose weight because you’re likely to be compensating – and more – for the the calories absent from the drink.

“We’d recommend that people carefully document their caloric intake from both beverages and discretionary foods because both of these add calories  — and possibly weight  — to the body,” said Dr An.

Tell us, do you like to drink diet soft-drinks? If so, do you do so because they have fewer calories and less sugar? Or do you simply like the taste?