According to a recent study, diet beverage drinkers are more predisposed to eating unhealthy food. Overall, alcoholic drinks and sweetened beverages have been proven to cause a higher intake of food throughout the day. However, those who opt for the diet variety usually resort to fast food later on, maybe in order to compensate for their earlier low-calorie choice.
Researchers came to these conclusions after analyzing the daily eating and drinking habits of 22,513 adult Americans, who were required to keep a food diary on two nonconsecutive days. Data was collected between 2003 and 2012, as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The study was published on Friday, in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Overall, participants included in the study regularly opted for one or several of these 5 beverages: coffee, tea, alcohol, diet or sugar-free drinks and sugar-sweetened drinks. The vast majority (approximately 90%) admitted to consuming discretionary foods, and these unhealthy meals accounted for around 482 calories from the daily intake.
97% consumed at least one beverage type every day, while 41% had at least 2 such drinks, and a quarter drank at least 3 per day. The most frequently used beverage was coffee, preferred by 53% of the respondents, while the second-most popular were sugar-sweetened drinks like juice and soda. 26% of the participants opted for tea, 22% for alcohol, and 21% for diet drinks.
Daily calorie intake was much higher among those who drank alcohol (384 additional calories) or sugar sweetened beverages (226 additional calories), while tea-drinkers usually ate normally, without feeling the need to overindulge.
Those who were more predisposed to opt for discretionary foods were the subjects who drank coffee and diet beverages. Of the two, diet drinks were more strongly linked to a higher intake of calories, especially among those with higher incomes and education levels, as well as among those who suffer from obesity.
Low-calorie drinkers were much more inclined to counterbalance their apparently healthy behavior by consuming unhealthy products such as chocolate bars, ice cream, cookies, pastries and fries. Overall, they tended to prefer meals that were lower in nutrients, but much higher in cholesterol, sugar, saturated fat and sodium.
“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”, warned Ruopeng An, professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois.
Researchers speculate that in fact it is the preference for fast food that causes people to turn to diet drinks in the first place, as a way to diminish their calorie intake. However, once they opt for such beverages, they feel justified to eat more, and therefore, their attempts are losing weight are soon negated by their subsequent behavior.
This actually perpetuates a vicious cycle, where diet drinkers eventually feel guilty for their eating habits, which makes them resort to even more low-calorie drinks, and so on. As a result, specialists caution diet drinkers to be more careful when making dietary choices, because binging on unhealthy food could completely negate their weight-control efforts.
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