Diet soft drinks don’t mix

Human beings are strange creatures. We will ski down sheer icy slopes for the adrenalin rush and wear a helmet to protect our heads but leave our knees to pretty much look out for themselves. Some will wear shoes that are excruciating for the back calves then book an appointment with their osteopath to correct it all the next day. This kind of ill-conceived compensation is nowhere more obviously on display when someone orders a whisky or vodka or ouzo with a diet soft drink mixer. Presumably, the thought process is that avoiding the sugar of the soft drink is a healthy choice, but a new study has shown that in fact your diet soft drink may be making you more drunk.

Before we get on to the new study, it serves to just make a couple of points about artificial sweeteners. There are health concerns around some of them and if you are using them thinking they will help you lose weight then you may be disappointed. One worry about artificial sweeteners is that they uncouple sweetness and energy. It is only recently in evolutionary terms that sweet taste meant anything other than sugar, and if you got sugar you also got energy. Artificial sweeteners provide no calories in themselves but the evidence is that they also don’t switch off the brain appetite and reward centres in the way that sugar does. Studies do suggest that artificial sweeteners lead to consumption of more kilojoules in the long run than does sugar. Aside from all of that, there is also the evidence from this new study that artificial sweeteners in diet soft drinks mixed with alcohol may make you more intoxicated.

The researchers for this study had people take part on three separate occasions. On one occasion they gave them a sugar-sweetened soft drink with alcohol, on another a diet soft drink with alcohol, and another occasion a placebo drink. After each session, they used a breathalyser test and then were asked: how drunk they felt, if they felt they could drive, if they felt impaired, and how tired they felt. They then completed a reaction time test on computer.

On average, the diet soft drink resulted in a breath test reading resulted in breath test reading that was 18 per cent higher than the sugar-sweetened mixer. Despite these consistently higher readings the participants reported feeling no more intoxicated when drinking the diet drinks.

The researchers think that it is probably that sugar takes longer to be broken down in the stomach therefore keeping the alcohol in the stomach longer, making absorption more gradual, so your body can deal with the alcohol more effectively and you become less intoxicated.

None of this is to advocate sugar-laden soft drinks or excessive alcohol consumption. What it does show though is that not eating before you drink and using diet mixers could be a dangerously potent combination, without you even realising it. Add this to the popularity these days of mixing alcohol with energy drinks and you have a problem. Caffeinated energy drinks also make you feel less drunk, and with this double-effect of the energy drinks and diet mixers, you could be a lot more intoxicated than you actually feel.

This news won’t stop people having the occasional tipple, but if it keeps one person away from their car who otherwise might have thought they were fine to drive, then that’s a good thing.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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