Is Your Sugar-Free Drink Doing More Harm Than Good?

They may prompt us to eat more, say scientists

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Deemed the 'healthier' option compared to its sugar-packed counterpart, diet or sugar-free drinks are the choice of many. But now, scientists say you could be doing your health a disservice by opening a can or bottle of your favourite diet drink, because the body craves the missing calories, prompting you to eat more.Researchers at the University of Sydney say sugar-free drinks and snacks may fail to fully activate the part of our reward section of our brain, meaning we miss out on that feeling of being fully satisfied. They believe that the brain gets confused after the sweet taste of a diet drink doesn't pack a calorific punch, therefore it sends signals to the drinker that not enough energy has been consumed.

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The team discovered that when fruit flies and mice were placed on a sugar-free diet they ate 30% more than those on a normal plan. The research also suggested that artificial sweeteners could promote hyperactivity, insomnia and decreased sleep quality.It's worth noting that the team only tested sucralose (a calorie-free artificial sweetener), but believe the same effect is likely to happen in similar sweeteners. More testing is obviously required, especially as the study only involved fruit flies and mice.Many people swap drinks containing more calories and sugar for lower-calorie or artificially sweetened alternatives in a bid to curb weight gain. Much of the research in to low-calorie/calorie-free artificial sweeteners has been largely inconsistent andit's thought that they are okay to consume alongside a healthy, balanced diet - in moderation!

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Shona Wilkinson, Nutritionist at SuperfoodUK told NetDoctor:'I think that this study is slightly misleading, but there is an aspect of truth to it. People obviously do crave food (calories) if they are not getting enough. This is true of all foods, not just sugar free drinks. Artificial sweeteners are causing a rapid rise in blood sugar levels in the same way as pure sugar does. This is then followed by a slump in blood sugar levels, which causes cravings. In addition, we do know that artificial sweeteners still cause your body to expect corresponding amounts of calories because of the sweet taste it is experiencing. When the body doesn't get those calories, it can trigger your body to want the calories from elsewhere (making you hungry). Why not opt for something delicious, healthy and refreshing such as coconut water?

She adds:'Artificial sweeteners are often heavily processed and have a strong sweet flavor. I would suggest that people try to get rid of that sweet tooth. Avoiding sugar and artificial sweeteners will help with your energy levels - giving you a good steady release of energy throughout the day, rather that bouts of extreme energy followed by lethargy. If you do need to sweeten something, though, you can use natural sweeteners such as Yacon syrup or coconut sugar. These are much better for you and taste delicious. Remember, though, that ideally the goal is to get rid of that sweet tooth!'

The study was published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

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