There are many reasons why people add diet beverages to their grocery list. Diet culture often guides this decision. According to a study published in JAMA Network, artificial sweeteners can actually increase food cravings in people who are obese or have a history of obesity.
“When the body doesn’t get the calories it needs when you have sweet flavors, it can cause a person consume more,” says registered dietitian Melissa Hooper of Bite Size Nutrition.
About The Study
Researchers examined 74 people who drank nonnutritive sweeteners, also known as sugar substitutes such as saccharin, aspartame, sucralose and Rebaudioside A (also known by reb-A or stevia). Only sucralose was used in this study. These products add sweetness without calories to the products.
Researchers found that participants had increased activity in brain regions linked to food cravings and appetite within 2 hours of consuming NNS-sweetened beverages.
Both men and women were affected by lower levels of hormones that are associated with satiety. This means that the beverages did not promote feelings of fullness but actually made participants feel hungry.
The Implications Of Research
These results could be even more concerning as people turn to NNS-sweetened beverages and foods as a way of managing their weight.
A study that looked at U.S. household purchasing patterns from 2002 to 2018 was published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. They found a decline in sugar intake but an increase in NNS.
We don’t know the long-term consequences of nonnutritive sweeteners. However, we know that sugar alcohols like sorbitol or xylitol can cause diarrhea., says Melissa Hooper.
According to the study, NNS was significantly more popular than sugar. The study found that the consumption of sucrose rose from 38% to 71%, and that sucralose was consumed at a higher rate. The largest change was in Stevia, which saw a rise of 0.1% to 26%.
The biggest shift was in beverages, which Hooper said is not surprising given the variety of NNS-fueled drinks available. Too many sweeteners can cause problems, especially if they are concentrated in drinks.
She says, “While we don’t know the long-term effects of nonnutritive sweeteners consumption, we do know that some sugar alcohols like sorbitol or xylitol can cause diarrhea”
She also said that the findings of the current study are not surprising. Previous research suggests that NNS may increase appetite because the body associates sweet taste with calories and energy.
Are Diet Drinks Healthy?
People make the switch from sugar to NNS-enhanced foods because they believe these artificial sweeteners will be healthier. However, research on this approach is not conclusive.
The study found that diet drinks are not as healthy as people believe. It is possible that the heart related health problems may be the same as those from sugary drinks.
Researchers conducted a survey of approximately 104,000 people about their diets over 18 months, which included beverage choices. The data was then compared to the cardiovascular events within that group in a 10-year period.
The researchers found that those who consumed sugary beverages more often than those who didn’t had these drinks had greater cardiovascular events than those who didn’t. The “diet” drink was not as protective as the non-NNS.
“Our study suggests that diet drinks may not have the health benefits people believe, as the heart health issues could be similar to those of sugary drinks,” said Eloi Chzelas (study lead author), who is part of the Nutritional Epidemiology Research Team at Sorbonne Paris Nord University.
The effects of artificially sweetened drinks on cardiometabolic processes are not clear. This could be due to factors such as altered gut microbiota or increased belly fat or impaired glucose regulation.
Hopper suggests that diet drinks should be treated in the same manner as sugary ones, based on the results of current research. Instead of reaching for these drinks regularly, focus on occasional consumption if possible.