Study on Diet Mixers for Alcohol Has Serious Limitations

ATLANTA (February 5, 2013) — The article “Artificial Sweeteners Versus Regular Mixers Increase Breath Alcohol Concentrations in Male and Female Social Drinkers” contains some serious limitations Although researchers reported a difference in some measures of intoxication for those consuming sugar-sweetened beverages with alcohol versus those consuming artificial-sweetened beverages with alcohol, for a number of measures, for two of the performance tasks and intoxication ratings, no differences between the two groups were observed. People should continue to exercise caution when consuming alcohol.

The study has several flaws, including:

  • The outcome was self reported. Subjects were asked to rate subjectively their feelings of intoxication, fatigue, impairment, and willingness to drive after consumption of the different drinks. These measures could vary greatly between individuals, based on their tolerance or differences in metabolizing alcohol. Comparing these subjective measures is not scientifically meaningful.
  • Other factors may have influenced the findings. The increase in breath alcohol concentration when drinking alcohol mixed with a diet beverage was only slightly higher than when alcohol was mixed with a regular beverage. Given the relatively large standard deviation that the researchers reported, it is highly possible that there may be other variables that influenced the findings. For example, the amount and content of the previous meal was not very well controlled and could have influenced results since alcohol’s effect can vary based on amount and type of food one has eaten in the past four hours.
  • The findings are not meaningful in real life. Differences in the extent of impairment exist among individuals with the same breath alcohol content. The researchers only tested one dose of alcohol in subjects only one time. In order for the findings to be meaningful, a longer observation period would be needed. Although the researchers reported that participants who drank alcohol mixed with a diet drink had a breath alcohol concentration slightly over the legal limit for driving in the US while those who had had alcohol mixed with a regular beverage were slightly below the limit, both group of participants were reluctant to drive.
  • The sample size was too small to know if the effect observed is real. The study was done in a small number (16) of young Caucasian adults, so it may not be applicable to the general population. Feelings of drunkenness were self-reported, so bias could have been introduced. Additionally, half of the study participants were female; since females metabolize alcohol differently than men, the outcome of the study may have been affected. Furthermore, testing breath alcohol concentrations is not as reliable as testing blood alcohol concentrations. Lastly, it is impossible to know if the effects observed would have been seen in a larger group of people.

Low-calorie sweeteners can be a simple and effective way to reduce calories and assist with weight management. However, optimal health and well-being involves many factors, such as healthful eating habits, exercise, and moderation of alcohol use.

faq2Do you have questions about low-calorie sweeteners? Want to learn more about maintaining a healthy lifestyle? You asked and we listened. Our resident Registered Dietitians answered the most popular questions about low-calorie sweeteners.