Think your diet soda habit isn't such a big deal? This may change your mind: researchers found that drinking diet soda with your meal may be causing you to eat unhealthier foods.
The study looked at the eating habits of over 22,000 people who had participated in a national survey for nine years. The researchers looked at the participants' drinking habits and how they correspond to calorie consumption. What they found: those who drank diet soda obtained a greater percentage of their overall daily calorie intake from "energy dense, nutrient-poor foods" like cookies, ice cream, chocolate, fries, and pastries, and caused an increase in daily calorie intake as well. In other words, the more diet soda they drank, the more junk food like they ate.
The study's lead author, Ruopeng An, explained a possible connection: "It may be that people who consume diet beverages feel justified in eating more, so they reach for a muffin or a bag of chips," he said. "Or perhaps, in order to feel satisfied, they feel compelled to eat more of these high-calorie foods." A third possibility could be that people choose a diet drink when they're eating an unhealthy meal because they feel guilty about the calories in their food, he added. Another interesting finding is probably unsurprising to anyone who's had a few too many during a night out: the study found that drinking alcohol was linked to eating an extra 384 calories a day. Overall, the researchers found that coffee drinkers and those who drank sugary beverages had the worst diet profile.
The point of the study, An said, was to show that mindful eating — thinking about quality and quantity of your food — matters, and that merely replacing a sugary drink with a diet one may not prevent weight gain. "If people simply substitute diet beverages for sugar-sweetened beverages, it may not have the intended effect because they may just eat those calories rather than drink them," he said. "We'd recommend that people carefully document their caloric intake from both beverages and discretionary foods because both of these add calories — and possibly weight — to the body." Previous studies have already shown that diet soda causes weight gain, so this new finding is just one more reason to quit that diet soda habit for good.