This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on January 22, 2014.
If you’re trying to cut calories by switching from regular soda to diet, beware: A new Johns Hopkins study shows that many diet soda drinkers make up for the lost calories by eating more food at meals and snacks.
The research, published last week in the American Journal of Public Health, showed overweight or obese Americans who drink diet soda consume about the same amount of calories each day as their regular-soda drinking counterparts; the dieters just get more of their calories from food.
As The Chronicle reported last summer, the American Heart and American Diabetes associations released a joint statement warning of this risk when switching from sugar to artificial sweeteners. Christopher Gardner, a nutrition expert and professor of medicine at Stanford who was not involved in the Johns Hopkins research, described it at the time as eating something with artificial sweeteners and then thinking, “I saved calories this morning, so I’m going to have a cookie with lunch.”
Johns Hopkins researchers took their data from the 1999-2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. It showed 1 in 5 overweight or obese Americans consumes diet soda. That’s about twice the percentage of people of healthy weight who drink the beverage. (In a twist, the healthy-weight diet soda drinkers did consume fewer daily calories overall than healthy-weight regular soda drinkers.)
The winds of change seem to be blowing in the U.S. beverage market. Last year, for the first time in 30 years, water surpassed soda as the most consumed beverage in America, and sales of diet soda declined 7 percent over the previous year, according to a Wells Fargo analysis of Nielsen scanner data.