Getting rid of sugary drinks is a the right move for your health, taking into consideration your waistline, on average a can of soda has about 150 calories and 39 grams of sugar (equivalent to 9 teaspoons). Switching to diet may not be an effective calorie-cutting technique research says. A recent study indicates that at the end of the day, you’ll probably still take in the same amount of total calories overall. Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly how our bodies and brains react to calorie-free sweeteners. To test the effects of different sweeteners on processes like blood sugar and appetite, scientists from Singapore underwent a small study involving 30 male participants.
During every day of the experiment, the men were served breakfast and, a few hours later, given a beverage to hold them over until their next meal. The beverages were sweetened with, sugar, aspartame (artificial sugar), Stevia (plant based sweetener), or a sweetener that comes from the monk fruit plant.
The trial had a randomized, crossover style, meaning that every participant was given a different beverage on each of the four study days. At lunch, the men were told to eat until they felt full. Then they brought home food journals, to record what they ate for the remaining of the day.
The study’s results were surprising. Even though the sugar-sweetened beverage possessed nearly 250 calories (65 grams of sugar, about what’s in a 20-ounce soda or juice) and the others were calorie-free, that didn’t affect the total number of calories the men consumed all day long. The results showed the men who had zero-calorie drinks ate more at lunch than those who’d had a sugar-sweetened one. This balanced out their total energy intake, so that when daily calorie counts were grouped by beverage, they all averaged approximately 2,300.
Also the “diet” drinkers did not indulge to excess. While they did report feeling slightly hungrier before lunch than those who drank the sugary drink, they only ate enough extra to make up for the drink’s lack of calories—and they didn’t keep overeating for the remainder of the day.
The researchers also took blood samples before and after lunch to test participants’ blood glucose and insulin responses. While the sugar-sweetened beverage resulted to larger hikes in both measures within an hour after drinking it, those who drank the calorie-free beverage experienced larger spikes after lunch. Over the entire three-hour testing period, total glucose change was about the same for all four beverages.
The results were published in the International Journal of Obesity. The authors note that their findings may appear to contradict a recent review in which substituting sugary drinks for artificially sweetened ones did indeed result in people consuming less calories overall, and lose weight, over time.
Though both studies can agree on one thing: that using calorie-free sweeteners didn’t lead to over consumption—at least not over the person's normal calorie amount. And, the authors wrote, if people switch from sugar to calorie-free alternatives without altering their eating behavior to compensate (consciously or subconsciously), it is likely they’d cut their calorie intake, and may lose weight over time.
Their results report that this may be easier said than done, however, and may involve paying more attention to meal choices, portion sizes, and snacking behaviors. Remember this the next time you’re looking for something to quench your thirst. And remember, there’s always water or unsweetened tea—natural, healthy hydration choices that won’t add calories or play with your mind.