People who think they are doing the right thing by choosing a diet beverage then do the wrong thing by snacking on sodium, sugar and high-carbohydrate goodies like cookies, ice cream, fries and pastries, new research finds.

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Those who drink diet beverages may then compensate by eating high-calorie discretionary foods.

Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

The team studied 10 years of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

In this, participants were asked to recall everything they ate or drank over the course of 2 nonconsecutive days. While previous studies looked simply at what people ate and drank, this study looks at the nutritional values of the foods and beverages.


What An found was that these so-called “discretionary” foods – cookies, ice cream, fries and pastries – are eaten in greater amounts by those picking the diet beverage than by those favoring the non-diet beverages, including sugary drinks and alcohol.

In addition, obese adults in the study group who drank diet beverages consumed even more calories in these discretionary foods than normal-weight participants who drank sugar-sweetened beverages.

An describes what diet beverage drinkers are doing as a “compensation effect,” explaining:

It may be that people who consume diet beverages feel justified in eating more, so they reach for a muffin or a bag of chips. Or perhaps, in order to feel satisfied, they feel compelled to eat more of these high-calorie foods.”

People who like these diet beverages, the study suggests, should think about what they are eating as they are likely to be simply eating the calories they did not drink.

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Written by Jonathan Vernon