Diet soda actually makes you hungrier than sugary drinks, says research

Your favourite diet drinks might be stinting your weight loss efforts and here's why science thinks this happens

Person dispenses soda into a cup
(Image credit: Getty)

Diet soda is marketed as the healthier alternative to regular soda and the reason why many fizzy pop addicts opt for the diet option when losing weight. However, the sweeteners used to make that distinctive sweet taste in diet drinks could actually be making you hungrier.

If possible, it is good to include exercise as part of any weight loss regime and drinks like the best protein powder for weight loss can compliment this. They are also super-filling thanks to their protein content, which will affect your metabolism and reduce your overall hunger. 

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about diet soda, which does exactly the opposite.

A recent study published in the medical journal JAMA Network Open, found that the sweetener used in diet sodas could actually be increasing your appetite. This sweetener is otherwise known as sucralose and is the ingredient used by manufacturers to make diet soda taste as sweet and fulfilling as regular soda.

The researchers recruited 74 adults aged between 18 and 35 who had been maintaining a stable body weight. Each participant consumed both soda with sucralose and soda with sugar, to find out the impact artificial sweetener has on appetite.

After collecting data from MRI brain images, blood samples, metabolic hormones, and how much they the participants ate at a buffet, the researchers concluded that females and people with obesity felt inclined to eat more after drinking the soda with artificial sweetener.

Women looks in the fridge for something to eat

(Image credit: Getty)

This is associated with having greater brain reward activity. This term refers to the false feeling of hunger experienced after drinking your favourite can of diet soda.

Kathleen Page, the study author and physician who specialises in obesity at the University of Southern California said, “For these groups, drinking artificially sweetened drinks may trick the brain into feeling hungry, which may in turn result in more calories being consumed.”

Fully cutting out your favourite treats, like fizzy pop, might cause you to binge after depriving yourself of anything sweet and sugary, and can be more harmful than good when sticking to a diet. Instead, it's better to limit how often you drink diet soda and combine this with a more filling, yet healthy diet. You can start by making sure your meals include foods that are high in fibre, protein and fat.

Oats are a great source of fibre and are an easy breakfast option, while eggs and chicken are great sources of protein. Avocados and nuts provide healthy sources of fat – you can get a little bit of recipe information from our best vegan cookbooks guide. 

Seeing a pattern? These are all natural, "whole" foods, rather than heavily processed, pre-cooked products. There's a reason for this: a second study published in Cell Metabolism found that eating highly-processed foods can have the same impact on weight loss as drinking diet soda can. It was proven that eating ultra-processed foods can encourage people to consume more calories, and consequently gain weight.

Fuelling your body with less processed foods, drinks and snacks and opting for more substantial meals is a healthy way to increase satiety and encourage weight loss. 

Jessica Downey

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her career in journalism began in local news and she holds a Masters in journalism. Jessica has previously written for Runners World, penning news and features on fitness, sportswear and nutrition. 

When she isn't writing up news and features for Fit&Well covering topics ranging from muscle building, to yoga, to female health and so on, she will be outdoors somewhere, testing out the latest fitness equipment and accessories to help others find top products for their own fitness journeys. Her testing pairs up nicely with her love for running. She recently branched out to running 10Ks and is trying to improve her time before moving on to larger races. Jessica also enjoys building on her strength in the gym and is a believer in health and wellness beginning in the kitchen. She shares all of this on her running Instagram account @jessrunshere which she uses for accountability and for connecting with like-minded fitness lovers.