Drinks like diet soda that are sweetened with sugar substitutes have no calories, but they may still cause weight gain, according to a recent opinion paper published in Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism.
This theory might not make sense at first, but consider this: To prepare for intake of sugar and calories, the body releases hormones that prevent spikes in blood sugar. The same hormones also play a role in feeling full or satisfied.
A sugary drink like sports drinks or regular iced tea has a lot of empty calories (calories without nutrients). On the other hand, drinking something like diet soda, which tastes sweet but has no sugar or calories, confuses the body’s hormonal response and could cause overeating and an increase in blood sugar.
Drinks with sugar substitutes contain at least one artificial sweetener: saccharine, aspartame, sucralose or acesulfame-K. These chemically derived additives are FDA-approved, but their long-term effects are unknown. Some research suggests sugar substitutes may even cause cancer in animals.
The new article suggests a link between diet drinks and ill health, but more research is needed. So enjoy an occasional artificially sweetened diet soda—but don’t make a habit of it.