Contrary to what one might think, so-called “light” or “sugar-free” soft drinks do not protect against weight gain. Even though these drinks are indeed low in calories, recent studies show that they promote an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome in the same way that drinks containing real sugar.
Standard soft drinks contain astronomical amounts of sugar, about nine teaspoons per 355 mL can, or 150 calories. It may not seem like much, but to burn 150 calories, you need to jog for 20 minutes or walk for almost an hour. At a time when most people are sedentary, the simple act of regularly consuming soft drinks therefore often leads to a calorie surplus which promotes weight gain, and several studies indicate that these drinks do indeed contribute to the obesity epidemic. present, especially among young people.
To circumvent this problem, the industry has turned to sweeteners such as aspartame or sucralose which have a sweet taste, but are nonetheless devoid of calories. In theory, the consumption of these artificial sugars should allow consumers to satisfy their attraction to sugar, without ingesting excess energy that could lead to overweight.
In reality, however, this is not at all what is observed: studies show that people who consume artificial sugars, “light” or “sugar-free” soft drinks, for example, have an increased risk of obesity. , type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome identical to those who consume foods containing real sugar.
Sweeteners disturb the intestinal flora
The research of the last years indicates that this lack of positive effect of sweeteners would be due to the property of these substances to disturb the metabolism. For example, according to one study, the addition of aspartame, saccharin or sucralose to the diet was associated with a marked increase in blood sugar levels, higher even than that observed following sugar consumption. This surprising result is thought to be caused by a dysregulation of the bacterial community (dysbiosis) present in the intestine by sweeteners, which disrupts sugar metabolism and creates conditions that promote fat accumulation.
This metabolic alteration has just been confirmed by another study, this one carried out with stem cells isolated from adipose tissue. These cells are a good model, because they have all the enzymatic machinery necessary for the production of fat, with in particular a glucose transporter (GLUT4) which allows the entry of sugar inside the cells, as well as the series d enzymes that catalyze its conversion into fatty acids. After exposing these cells to physiological doses of sucralose, the scientists observed an increase in the expression of several genes involved in this conversion of sugar into fat, in particular that of the transporter GLUT4 and certain adipogenic genes (PLIN, PPARG, and CEBPA).
Promoted fat accumulation
More interestingly, these results seem to reflect the real impact of diet drinks on the human body: analysis of biopsy samples taken from the abdominal fat of study participants showed that the expression of these genes was increased in overweight people who regularly consumed diet drinks compared to those who did not. Overall, these results indicate that even though they are devoid of calories, sweeteners like sucralose can nevertheless promote fat accumulation by acting directly at the level of fat cells. “Light” soft drinks are therefore absolutely not a valid alternative to standard drinks and there is no reason to consume these drinks regularly.
To quench your thirst, a glass of water is enough.
Bleich SN and KA Vercammen. “The negative impact of sugar-sweetened beverages on children’s health: an update of the literature”. BMC Obes. 2018; 5:6.
Dhingra et al. “Soft drink consumption and risk of developing cardiometabolic risk factors and the metabolic syndrome in middle-aged adults in the community”. Traffic 2007; 116: 480-488.