Neither beverage has any nutritional value, but people who drink diet beverages are not likely to compensate with cookies or other empty calories later in the day, Gardner said.
On the other hand, he added, people who eat foods containing non-nutritive sweeteners are more likely to compensate with sugar-laced items later in the day.
At this point, it's not clear what effect non-nutritive sweeteners may have on actual weight loss or gain or total calorie or carbohydrate intake or if they have any effect on other risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.
But there is some evidence (largely anecdotal) that consuming products with non-nutritive sweeteners can help people with diabetes monitor their sugar intake, a key component of managing diabetes, Gardner said.
"Picking diet sodas over sodas or even picking foods with non-nutritive sweeteners can have a direct impact on sugar intake and [can be used] as a viable tool to get people to monitor their sugar intake," he said.
Similarly, if you're planning on having coffee anyway, "using a blue or yellow or pink packet, that'll help," Gardner said.
Overall, though, non-nutritive sweeteners are probably not the ultimate answer for keeping a healthy weight and staying healthy.
"I don't think they're the magic bullet for weight loss," said Nancy Copperman, director of public health initiatives at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y.
Statement author Gardner agreed. "If people are counting on this as the way to control calories and sugar, this isn't it," he said. "The bigger impact has to be from an overall healthy diet. You're never going to turn a junk food into a health food just because you eliminated the sugar content. You never find non-nutritive sweeteners in carrots, broccoli or kidney beans, all the things we tell people to eat."
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