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Sugar-free and diet drinks are not helpful for weight loss and could even cause people to pile on the pounds, researchers at Imperial College London have claimed.

“A common perception, which may be influenced by industry marketing, is that because ‘diet’ drinks have no sugar, they must be healthier and aid weight loss when used as a substitute for full sugar versions. However we found no solid evidence to support this,” said Professor Christopher Millett, senior investigator from Imperial’s School of Public Health.

With the UK government due to impose a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks, fruit-flavoured drinks, and sports drinks it is likely we will see more people switch to artificially-sweetened beverages instead.

Are artificially-sweeteners creating a new health crisis?

In 2014 it was reported that low-calorie artificial sweeteners actually RAISE the risk of obesity.

Israeli researchers said that ‘today’s massive, unsupervised consumption’ of artificial sweeteners needs to be reassessed.

In a study of almost 400 people, the researchers linked artificial sweetener with being fatter and having glucose intolerance. The really scary thing is that volunteers who didn’t normally eat or drink artificially-sweetened foods began to become glucose intolerant after JUST FOUR DAYS of consumption.

Imperial College London also warns that artificially-sweetened beverages may contribute to obesity, type 2 diabetes and other obesity-related health problems, saying the sweeteners “might trigger compensatory food intake by stimulating sweet taste receptors” and that combined with the consumers’ awareness of the low-calorie content of the sweeteners, this may result in overconsumption of other foods.

Are diet drinks a no-go?

In a report by the BBC titled ‘Diet debate: Are diet drinks a no-go?’, Prof Susan Swithers, from the US’s Purdue University says: “A lot of people assume they must be healthy choices because they are not sugared beverages, but the critical thing for people to understand is we don’t have the evidence.”

Global beverage companies have been investing in soft drinks, flavoured water, juices and ready-to-drink tea and coffee containing artificial sweeteners in response to the obesity crisis and the outcry over sugar.

The government has asked food manufacturers to reduce the sugar content of their products by 5% by the end of this year.

Are artificial sweeteners fuelling the obesity epidemic?

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: “Our extensive evidence review showed swapping to low or no sugar drinks goes some way to managing calorie intake and weight.”

However, a study in the journal Obesity that followed 3,700 people for eight years showed those consuming the low-calorie sweeteners put on the most weight.

The researchers were left asking the question: “Are artificial sweeteners fuelling, rather than fighting, the very epidemic they were designed to block?”

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