Diet soda might actually make you fatter, new study suggests

If you thought no-sugar drinks are OK for you… think again.

Both sugar and sugarless drinks have been proven to be bad for you (Pixabay).

Worldwide, the industry of sugary drinks has reached an impressive scale. Coca Cola alone claims to sell 1.9 billion servings every single day. The world seems to run on soda… but the world is also paying a price. There’s plenty of health concerns regarding soft drinks, most of them concerning the amount of sugar found in such drinks. But producers — crafty people — found a solution: sugarless drinks. It was perfect! People gobbled it up, sales went up, and the world seemed to love these sugarless alternatives. But not all was good.

These drinks also needed to be sweet, and so artificial sweeteners came to be. Nonnutritive sweeteners such as Aspartame, Cyclamates, or Stevia, contain very little or no calories because they are not completely absorbed by your digestive system. Your body just takes them in and then spews them out. However, we don’t really know how good or bad these artificial sweeteners are for you.

“Nonnutritive sweeteners, such as aspartame, sucralose and stevioside, are widely consumed, yet their long-term health impact is uncertain,” the study reads. “We synthesized evidence from prospective studies to determine whether routine consumption of non-nutritive sweeteners was associated with long-term adverse cardiometabolic effects.”

In fact, several studies showed that these artificial sweeteners really aren’t good for you — but the main appeal remained. No sugar equals fewer calories, and therefore you don’t get weight. Fewer calories, fewer pounds. Seems pretty straightforward, except it might not be true.

An international team led by Meghan Azad, a researcher at the University of Manitoba, reviewed dozens of studies about these sweeteners, looking for underlying trends. They found that not only were people who drank a lot of such drinks at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease but also had a higher body mass index.

“Evidence from randomized controlled trials does not clearly support the intended benefits of nonnutritive sweeteners for weight management, and observational data suggest that routine intake of nonnutritive sweeteners may be associated with increased BMI and cardiometabolic risk,” researchers noted in the study.

Of course, this is just a correlation at this point and no cause-effect mechanism has been established. It could be that there is an external factor causing both things, or the causality might actually run the other way: it might be that people who are getting fatter tend to drink more. But for now, if you’re into such products, you should definitely keep an eye on your consumption.

This isn’t the first time scientists have revealed the negative impact of artificial sweeteners. A study in the April 20, 2017, issue of Stroke examined how soft drink choices might affect the brain. It found that people who reported drinking at least one artificially sweetened soda a day compared with less than one a week were approximately twice as likely to have a stroke. Another 2012 study detected a slightly higher risk of stroke in people who drank more than one soda per day, regardless of whether it contained sugar or not. The bottom line is, soda is pretty bad for you — whether or not it contains sugar.

Journal Reference: Meghan B. Azad et al — Nonnutritive sweeteners and cardiometabolic health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.161390

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