CHAPEL HILL- If you’re trying to lose weight, a recent UNC study suggests that diet soda at least won’t cause more cravings for sweets—but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll help with the dieting process.
“This is a little preliminary, but we showed that dietary beverages don’t increase cravings for sweet foods,” says Carmen Piernas of the UNC Gillings School of Public Health, who led the study’s researchers. “Although, we should note that this is a really controlled study with only people who were really motivated to lose weight.”
Previous research has suggested that diet soda can trigger the hormones that cause cravings for sweets—but the results of this study seem to refute those claims.
The statewide experiment included 318 overweight or obese adults, all of whom said they consumed at least 280 calories in beverages alone on a daily basis. One group replaced at least two daily servings of sugary drinks with water, while another group used diet soda as a replacement. Those who used water for their replacement ate more fruits and vegetables than the diet soda group, but it was the diet soda drinkers who ate fewer desserts.
Still, Piernas says that data might not tell the whole story.
“We have to take into account that the participants in this study substituted two regular beverages with water or a diet beverages,” she says. “So we don’t know what’s happening if someone is drinking five, six or seven servings a day of diet soda.”
Piernas says weight-loss seekers tend to take diet sodas over regular sodas because they contain fewer calories—but as newer versions hit the shelves, scientists know increasingly less about how they might affect the human appetite, especially when it comes to sweet foods
“There are new compounds being introduced in the markets, and we don’t know much about them.” she says. “Some research has found that these compounds have more sweetness in them than sugar. So, we don’t know if that higher sweetness could result in higher consumption of or cravings for sweet foods.”
And Piernas adds that the study didn’t say anything about diet soda in relationship to hunger.
“We’re just comparing dietary intake…micronutrient intake and food group intake,” she says. “We’re not allowed to say whether diet soda increased or decreased hunger because that wasn’t the aim of this study.”
Piernas says one of the most important next steps is to find out more about what happens between the body and the brain after someone consumes artificial sweeteners. Meanwhile, from an experimental standpoint, scientists need to conduct longer term trials with higher doses of diet sodas.