Diet soda may seem like a far healthier alternative to regular pop, but a new study warns that this may not be the case at all.
In fact, according to a group of researchers at Purdue University, drinking diet soda may not only be as bad for your health as the regular stuff, but it may be causing you to pack on the pounds.
"It is not uncommon for people to be given messages that artificially-sweetened products are healthy, will help them lose weight or will help prevent weight gain," report author Susan Swithers said, according to a media release. "The data to support those claims are not very strong, and although it seems like common sense that diet sodas would not be as problematic as regular sodas, common sense is not always right."
Swithers and her team reviewed a dozen studies on diet soda and its impacts on health published in the past five years to prepare for their report. They say they were shocked by what they found.
"Honestly, I thought that diet soda would be marginally better compared to regular soda in terms of health," Swithers, a behavioral neuroscientist and professor of psychological sciences, told CNN. “But in reality it has a counterintuitive effect.”
The researchers found that just like with regular soda, the consumption of artificially sweetened beverages like diet soda is also associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. Drinking just one can of diet soda per day is "enough to significantly increase the risk for health problems," according to the media release.
The report explains that diet soda and artificial sweeteners trick the body into thinking that it is consuming real food and sugar even though it isn't, which could lead to metabolic confusion and overconsumption.
"You've messed up the whole system, so when you consume real sugar, your body doesn't know if it should try to process it because it's been tricked by the fake sugar so many times," Swithers told CNN.
The health risks of consuming diet soda have made headlines before. In 2011, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine found that daily diet soda consumption was linked to a higher risk for stroke and heart attack.
In a blog post for The Huffington Post earlier this month, Dr. Mark Hyman explained how "diet soda makes you fat" and unhealthy:
- Artificial sweeteners are hundreds to thousands of times sweeter than regular sugar, activating our genetically-programmed preference for sweet taste more than any other substance.
- They trick your metabolism into thinking sugar is on its way. This causes your body to pump out insulin, the fat storage hormone, which lays down more belly fat.
- It also confuses and slows your metabolism down, so you burn fewer calories every day.
- It makes you hungrier and crave even more sugar and starchy carbs like bread and pasta.
- In animal studies, the rats that consumed artificial sweeteners ate more, their metabolism slowed, and they put on 14 percent more body fat in just two weeks -- even eating fewer calories.
- In population studies, there was a 200 percent increased risk of obesity in diet soda drinkers.
Ultimately, Swithers says that people should learn to view diet sodas as they would any other sugary food. It's not about banning them from your life completely, she stressed, but about consuming artificial sweeteners in moderation.
"[Current research] suggest that telling people to drink diet sodas could backfire as a public health message," Swithers said, according to the release. "So the current public health message to limit the intake of sugars needs to be expanded to limit intake of all sweeteners, not just sugars."
Read Swithers' report, which was published on July 10 in the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, here.