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Sugar-free drinks won't help you lose weight

New research says there is no solid evidence to support claims the drinks help prevent obesity.

Image: Anthony Devlin PA Wire/PA Images

SUGAR-FREE AND diet drinks don’t help people lose weight, new research has found.

Researchers from Imperial College London and two Brazilian universities, University of Sao Paulo and Federal University of Pelotas, have argued that sugar-free versions of drinks may be no better for weight loss or preventing weight gain than their full sugar counterparts, and may also be detrimental to the environment.

Artificially-sweetened drinks contain no sugar and are often known as ‘diet’ versions of soft drinks, and may be perceived by consumers as the healthier option for those who want to lose weight or reduce their sugar intake.

However, researchers have said there is no solid evidence to support the claims they are any better for health or prevent obesity and obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

Professor Christopher Millett, senior investigator from Imperial’s School of Public Health, 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.”

Obesity

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

Artificially-sweetened drinks currently comprise a quarter of the global sweetened drinks market, but they are not taxed or regulated to the same extent as sugar-sweetened beverages – perhaps due to their perceived harmlessness, researchers said.

Despite having no or very little energy content, there is a concern that artificially-sweetened drinks might trigger compensatory food intake by stimulating sweet taste receptors. Scientists said this, together with the consumers’ awareness of the low-calorie content of the drinks, may result in over-consumption of other foods, thus contributing to obesity, type two diabetes and other obesity-related health problems.

Bad for the environment

In the report, Professor Millett and colleagues also note the production artificially-sweetened drinks has negative consequences for the environment, with up to 300 litres of water required to produce a 0.5 litre plastic bottle of carbonated soft drink.

Dr Maria Carolina Borges, first author of the study from the Federal University of Pelotas, added:

The lack of solid evidence on the health effects of artificially-sweetened beverages (ASBs) and the potential influence of bias from industry funded studies should be taken seriously when discussing whether ASBs are adequate alternatives to sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs).

Professor Carlos Monteiro, co-author from the University of Sao Paulo, said: “Taxes and regulation on SBSs and not ASBs will ultimately promote the consumption of diet drinks rather than plain water – the desirable source of hydration for everyone.”

The authors added: “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.”

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Órla Ryan

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