Lorn Healthy Options weekly health tip – April 7

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Do diet drinks really aid with weight loss?

We have been discussing the effects of insulin resistance on the human body and how this effect can drive obesity through the intake of highly processed and refined foods with added sugar.

Therefore it would appear to make sense that reducing our sugar intake with a switch to diet drinks would aid weight loss?

The world’s first artificial sweetener, saccharin, was discovered as long ago as 1879 and ever since we have gradually synthesized further options such as aspartame and sucralose. These chemicals are not just found in diet fizzy drinks but also some yoghurts, snack bars, breakfast cereals and many other ‘sugar free’ processed foods.

Diet drinks contain very few calories and no sugar so the logical reasoning would be they help to reduce body weight.

With the ever increasing obesity crisis across the globe, many big food companies have jumped on the wagon to produce and sell artificially sweetened products. Until fairly recently, the consumption of artificially sweetened drinks had increased substantially but recent years has seen a levelling off, due mainly to safety concerns.

Unfortunately research into the long-term effects of drinking diet ‘pop’ does not point to any significant reduction in body weight. Worse still, we have some research that points to weight gain through their regular consumption along with an increased risk of cardiac issues and stroke. So what could be going on?

By switching from regular to a diet drink option you are consuming less calories but remember it’s not just calories that cause obesity, it’s also about our insulin response. Some modern artificial sweeteners elicit an insulin response similar to sugar and this effect may be countering any potential benefits gained from a reduction of sugar consumption. We also have some early research to suggest these sort of drinks could be negatively affecting our gut bacteria and increasing insulin resistance as a result.

Interestingly, the consumption of sugar activates an area of the brain that registers rewards but this is not the case when we consume sucralose, for example. Potentially this lack of reward when an artificially sweet food is consumed could be triggering further sugar cravings to activate the brain’s reward centres.

There is little evidence to show any reduction in total calories through the use of diet drinks. Know anyone who has lost weight by drinking diet cola?

Much of the research in this field is conflicting, with some big food sponsored research painting a better picture than independent studies. Independent research is where we must focus our attention.

In conclusion, what would be my advice?

If you are drinking a lot of full sugar drinks a transfer to a diet option will certainly reduce your sugar intake which has some benefits. However, I would suggest this as a short-term stepping stone away from full sugar drinks as long-term use of artificially sweetened drinks does not yield positive results in terms of weight reduction.

Furthermore their use could potentially drive heightened sugar cravings which you will find through other unhealthy options.

Replacing soft drinks and juices with water for most days of the week could reduce your calorie intake, suppress your appetite and aid in the elimination of waste products.

Turns out water is a much healthier option with no insulin response…but you all knew that, didn’t you.

Rob Graham, lead exercise professional, Healthy Options.