Diet-beverage drinkers eat more junk food, researchers say

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Champaign, IL – Do diet-beverage drinkers really eat more junk food than people who drink sugar-sweetened beverages or alcohol? New research from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign suggests they do.

Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, in which more than 22,000 adults reported what they ate and drank during a two-day period, researchers examined calorie intake, beverage type, and consumption of unhealthy “discretionary food” such as cookies, chocolate and fries.

Results showed that although diet-beverage drinkers consumed fewer calories per day than people who drank sugar-sweetened beverages or alcohol, they received a higher percentage of their daily calories from discretionary food, suggesting they compensated for the lack of calories in their drinks, according to a university press release.

“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,” University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Ruopeng An said in the release.

Researchers recommend keeping track of calories from both drinks and discretionary food to help control weight.

The study was published online Sept. 11 in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.