Diet drinks made with artificial sweeteners are no healthier than their sugar-filled alternatives, according to a new study.
A team of experts reviewed research into the ‘healthiness’ of so-called diet drinks (known in the industry as artificially sweetened beverages, or ASBs), and found that despite common perceptions, sugar-free drinks are unlikely to aid weight loss.
Professor Christopher Millett from Imperial College London’s School of Public Health said that ‘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.’ Hands up who’s ever smugly sipped on a Diet Coke while silently judging those opting for the ‘full-fat’ red can?
Millett and his colleagues reviewed research on the effect that artificially sweetened drinks can have on health, and while there was no direct evidence that these drinks would cause weight gain, no evidence was found to suggest that they aided weight loss, either.
The researchers reached that conclusion that ‘the absence of evidence to support the role of ASBs in preventing weight gain and the lack of studies on other long term effects on health strengthen the position that ASBs should not be promoted as part of a healthy diet.’
Highlighting the risk of bias from the drinks industry, co-author Dr Maria Carolina Borges of the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil 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 (sugar-sweetened beverages).’
However, it seems that the jury is still out on sugar-free drinks, with many experts providing a conflicting viewpoint. According to British nutritionist Professor Susan Jebb, low-calorie sugar-free drinks provide ‘a step in the right direction’ for those looking to lose weight.
‘For people seeking to manage their weight, tap water is without question the best drink to choose, for health and the environment, but for many people who are used to drinking sugary drinks, this will be too hard a change to make,’ she responded. ‘Artificially sweetened drinks are a step in the right direction to cut calories.’
Dr Alison Tedstone, Public Health England’s chief nutritionist, revealed that her organisation’s evidence review has showed that ‘swapping to low or no sugar drinks goes some way to managing calorie intake and weight.’
‘However, maintaining a healthy weight takes more than just swapping one product for another. Calories consumed should match calories used, so looking at the whole diet is very important.’