Diet cool drinks seem like the perfect alternative to sipping on sugary, fizzy cans. After all, you’re trading a high-calorie beverage for something that contains almost zero (and most options barely sacrifice flavour).
There’s been a massive uptick in South Africans choosing “zero” options over their carbonated alternatives. But this win-win swap might not be all it’s cracked up to be. Recent research has shown that despite nixing calories, these beverages might still cause you to pack on weight and, even worse, could alter your gut microbiome.
What Are Diet Cooldrinks?
Diet cool drinks are zero-calorie, sugar-free versions of carbonated beverages. For example: to match the flavour and sweetness of its sugary counterpart, a diet lemonade might contain aspartame, which is one of many artificial sweeteners used to make “diet” drinks that contain no actual sugar or any/few calories. However, according to Men’s Health, artificial sweeteners can be between 200 to 600 times sweeter than traditional sugar.
Can Drinking Diet Cooldrinks Lead to Weight Gain?
A new study published in the journal Cell looked at how various artificial sweeteners like saccharin, aspartame, stevia and sucralose might impact the metabolism and gut microbiome. These non-nutritive sweeteners are found in most “low-calorie” carbonated alternatives.
Researchers narrowed down their list of volunteers to only those who did not regularly consume these artificial sweeteners as part of their diets. They then randomly assigned participants to various supplementation groups including stevia, sucralose, saccharin, aspartame and control groups of either glucose or no supplement.
Participants were given sachets containing a mixture of their designated sweetener and glucose. Doses were kept below the recommended maximum intake. Study participants were required to wear a glucose monitor for the duration of the trial period. They were also asked to complete glucose tolerance tests at regular intervals during the study.
What they found was that individuals consuming either sucralose or saccharin had a “significantly elevated” glycemic response. In stark contrast, those in the other groups did not experience a notable spike in these levels.
The main takeaway? Regularly consuming sweeteners such as saccharin and sucralose can result in an elevated glycemic response in even otherwise healthy individuals. Previous research has shown that consistently high glycemic responses may contribute to weight gain. They may also lead to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Additionally, researchers noted that all of the sweeteners tested could alter gut microbiome; however, these changes only occurred in some of the participants, suggesting that some people may be able to consume artificial sweeteners without experiencing these effects.
The Verdict: Should You Stop Drinking Diet Cooldrinks?
This latest study is a good reminder that we still need to conduct further research into the safety of artificial sweeteners. While “light” or “diet” options might seem like a good fix for your fizzy fanaticism, they may add extra risks to the equation. Namely, they might ultimately still cause you to gain weight. So, until we have a final verdict, it might pay to play it safe.
We recommend trading out your sugar-free vices for unflavoured sparkling water. You’ll still get that instant refreshment from the bubbles without having to worry about potentially harmful additives.