Why diet soda may be making you eat more

TORONTO — If you’re sipping on diet soda to help you get healthy and slim down, U.S. researchers say you’re doing it all wrong.

People who are overweight or obese could be turning to Diet Coke or other artificially sweetened drinks to shave calories off their diets, but a new study suggests this isn’t helping their cause.

Johns Hopkins University scientists say that, based on their findings, diners who guzzle diet soda actually eat more calories from food than their counterparts who are also heavy but choose sugary drinks.

“Although overweight and obese adults who drink diet soda eat a comparable amount of total calories as heavier adults who drink sugary beverages, they consume significantly more calories from solid food at both meals and snacks,” Dr. Sara Bleich, a professor at the university’s Bloomberg School, said in a statement.

Story continues below advertisement

“The push to diet soda may not make a lot of sense,” Bleich told Reuters.

READ MORE: Sweeteners create cocaine-like addictions: Canadian study

It’s been said time and time again: dieters turning to diet soda end up compensating for those zero-calorie drinks by eating more. It could be by justifying a second helping of dinner because they saved the 165 calories they would have got from a can of Coke. Or, say, eating two cookies at break if they opted for a diet beverage at lunch instead of a latte.

Consumption of diet soda has skyrocketed over the past few decades. In 1965, only three per cent of people were drinking diet soda. By 2013, it’s about 20 per cent. People who drink diet soda typically have higher body mass index and graze on more snacks.

Other research has even pointed to artificial sweeteners disrupting the brain’s sensors and feelings of satisfaction.

“If you consume artificial sweeteners, it makes the brain think you are less satiated or full, and as a result you eat more,” Bleich told Health Day.

READ MORE: Coke changes recipe; Pepsi still contains cancer-causing chemical, U.S. watchdog says

The study scoured the health data of nearly 24,000 U.S. adults who took part in dietary and nutrition surveys from 1999 to 2010.

Story continues below advertisement

Through this data, Bleich learned that the number of obese people who drink diet soda is double that of normal-weight adults.

According to her findings, if you were obese and drinking diet soda, you’d consume 200 more calories a day from food than obese men and women who reached for the real deal sugary sodas.

If you were overweight and drank diet soda, you consumed 88 more calories than your counterparts drinking the regular variety. Meanwhile, normal-weight people who drank diet soda got 73 fewer daily calories from food.

If you were a healthy weight and you paired your meals with a sugary drink, you typically had 43 more calories on your daily intake.

READ MORE: Could sugar substitutes cause diabetes?

For its part, the American Beverage Association, which represents soda manufacturers, said that losing weight is all about balancing calories and exercise.

“Diet beverages have been shown to be an effective tool as part of an overall weight-management plan,” the association said in a statement.

“Numbers studies have repeatedly demonstrated the benefits of diet beverages — as well as low-calorie sweeteners, which are in thousands of foods and beverages,” the organization said.

READ MORE: Measuring meals by exercise, not calories helps consumers eat healthy: study

Ultimately, Bleich said that consumers may need to rethink how they use calories they may be saving from zero-calorie sodas.

Story continues below advertisement

“The results of our study suggest that overweight and obese adults looking to lose or maintain their weight–who have already made the switch from sugary to diet beverages–may need to look carefully at other components of their solid-food diet, particularly sweet snacks, to potentially identify areas for modification,” said Bleich.

Her findings were published Thursday night in the American Journal of Public Health.