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Diet soda may actually trigger food cravings

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Los Angeles — Are you relying on diet soda to help spark a weight-loss journey or feel like it’s a healthier choice than regular soda?

A recent study from the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine suggests that diet drinks containing the artificial sweetener sucralose may actually hinder dieters by triggering more intense food cravings in the brain than sugar-sweetened beverages. The phenomenon is especially common among women and individuals who are considered obese.

Researchers analyzed 74 participants – an equal distribution of men and women who were classified as healthy weight, overweight or obese. During the span of three separate visits, the group ingested 300 milliliters of a drink sweetened with table sugar, another with sucralose and water.


After two hours, functional MRI scans were used to analyze the participants’ brain activity as they viewed photos of high-calorie foods such as burgers and donuts. Additionally, the researchers measured the participants’ blood sugar levels, insulin and other metabolic hormones in the blood, as well as the quantity of food each consumed from a snack buffet offered after each session.

Findings show that the female participants and the individuals considered obese who consumed drinks with sucralose experienced increased activity in regions of the brain responsible for food cravings and appetite. Further, drinks containing sucralose triggered decreased levels in hormones that communicate feelings of fullness to the brain than those containing table sugar, or sucrose.

“Our study starts to provide context for the mixed results from previous studies when it comes to the neural and behavioral effects of artificial sweeteners,” Kathleen Page, corresponding study author and associate professor of medicine at USC, said in a press release. “By studying different groups, we were able to show that females and people with obesity may be more sensitive to artificial sweeteners. For these groups, drinking artificially sweetened drinks may trick the brain into feeling hungry, which may in turn result in more calories being consumed.”

The study was published online in JAMA Network Open.

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