NEW YORK – With no calories to worry about, millions of Britons enjoy a diet soft drink assuming it must be healthier than the full-sugar version and could help them to lose weight.
But experts have found they are wrong and the drinks actually make people more likely to pile on the pounds.
A team of psychologists have found that people who drink artificially-sweetened beverages were far more likely to make diet-sabotaging choices afterwards than those who consumed regular, sugar-sweetened soda or unsweetened sparkling water.
Their minds were also more alert to unhealthy foods and they were more likely to choose a high-calorie snack after having the diet drink.
They also reported feeling less satisfied after eating.
Study author Sarah Hill, associate professor of psychology at Texas Christian University, said: “It seems that drinking a non-caloric drink may prime you to choose unhealthy food items. Those foods are on your mind.”
This is the latest research to highlight concerns that low-calorie drinks are actually more harmful.
Low-calorie drinks now command more than 60 per cent of the retail market for soft drinks in Britain.
Last year, a US study found that just one can of diet fizzy drink a day could increase the risk of diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
Researchers said the drinks, packed with artificial sweeteners, are just as hazardous as their sugary counterparts.
It is thought the artificial sweeteners do not satisfy the craving for sweetness, leading people to eat more sweet foods to compensate.
Now, a study published in the journal Appetite, saw researchers conducted three experiments in which participants were randomly given an unmarked cup filled with either diet soda, regular (sugar-sweetened) soda or sparkling water.
Their snack choices and responses to sugary food were then measured.
In the first experiment, the diet soda drinkers were faster to identify the names of high-calorie foods, such as hamburger and milkshake, than participants who drank the other two types of drinks.
In the second experiment, participants – who were told they were taking part in a consumer product study – were given the choice to take home a bag of chocolate, a pack of sugar-free gum, or a bottle of spring water.