KENTUCKY, United States, Monday November 30, 2015 – With the festive season upon us and the spirit of Christmas often served in liquid form, many of us reach for diet mixers in the hope that they will help keep the calorie count down.
But while the artificially-sweetened drinks may not be quite as bad for our waistlines, American experts warn that they could get us drunk faster, even contributing to taking us over the legal limit for driving.
Researchers from Northern Kentucky University studied 20 men and women, breathalysing them after drinking either a vodka and lemonade or vodka and diet lemonade.
The amount of alcohol was the same in both cases, but the readings were up to 25 percent higher with the low-calorie mixers.
The difference was so dramatic that the researchers said that bar staff and customers should be alerted to the risk posed by diet mixers.
As for why the readings were so different, it’s thought that sugary drinks could act in the same way as food, slowing the passage of alcohol to the bloodstream.
In contrast, the artificial sweeteners in diet drinks do nothing to dull the effect of alcohol, the Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal reports.
Previous research by the same team at Northern Kentucky University found that people who opted for diet mixers were also more prone to blackouts.
Another of their studies found that opting for a diet, rather than sugary, mixer, could take someone over the drunk-driving limit even when they had not exceeded the legal limit for alcohol alone.
Those taking part in the experiment nevertheless felt no more inebriated and were likely to believe that they were fit to get behind the wheel.
The researchers were particularly concerned about women, who were often the people most likely to opt for low-calorie mixers.
Not only does their biology mean that they get drunk faster than men, but women are more likely to choose diet mixers to help keep their weight down.
According to study author Cecile Marczinski: “While all alcohol consumers should be aware of this phenomenon, it appears more likely that women would select alcohol beverages with a diet mixer given that they are more likely to be conscious of calories in their drinks.
“Young women may be particularly vulnerable as they frequently use diet mixers with alcohol and they also restrict food intake when drinking to control calorie consumption and, ultimately, body weight.”
Additionally, co-author Amy Stamates noted that it is also a “real concern” that alcohol may do more damage to the liver and rest of the body when diet mixers are used.
“Alcohol prevention materials should inform customers that the health harms associated with higher breath alcohol concentrations may outweigh the benefits of saving some calories with diet mixers,” the researchers concluded.