Research has calimed that artificially-sweetened diet drinks should not be seen as a healthier alternative to sugary drinks as they make no difference to weight loss.
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"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," Professor Christopher Millett from Imperial College London's School of Public Health said.
The study also noted that research sponsored by the artificially-sweetened beverage (ASB) industry was "more likely to report favourable results and conclusions regarding ASB effects on weight control."
“The lack of solid evidence on the health effects of ASBs and the potential influence of bias from industry funded studies should be taken seriously when discussing whether ASBs are adequate alternatives to SSBs (sugar-sweetened beverages)," co-author Maria Carolina Borges from the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil said.
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The new study claims that ASBs might actually lead people to consume more calories by stimulating sweet flavour taste buds. It added that researchers found no evidence supporting the belief that sugar-free versions of soft drinks can help against obesity and related diseases such as Type 2 diabetes.
Highlighting the negative consequences of ASBs, the study noted the impact of diet drinks on the environment. It said that up to 300 litres of water were required to produce a single half-litre plastic fizzy soft drink bottle.
But according to leading Professor Susan Jebb from Oxford University there was no reason to believe that replacing sugary drinks with artificially-sweetened alternatives did any harm. "For people seeking to manage their weight, tap water is without question the best drink to choose, for health and the environment, but for many people who are used to drinking sugary drinks, this will be too hard a change to make. Artificially-sweetened drinks are a step in the right direction to cut calories," she said.
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Professor Tom Sanders from King's College London was also critical of the research, calling it "an opinion piece rather than a systematic review of the evidence." "The conclusion that reduced sugar or sugar-free drinks should not be promoted or seen as part of a healthy diet seems unwarranted and likely to add to public confusion," he added.
Public Health England Chief Nutritionist Alison Tedstone said, "Our extensive evidence review showed swapping to low or no sugar drinks goes some way to managing calorie intake and weight. It's especially important for young people as they consume three times the amount recommended, mostly from soft drinks.” However, he added, "maintaining a healthy weight takes more than just swapping one product for another. Calories consumed should match calories used, so looking at the whole diet is very important."
This article originally appeared on The Independent.