If you think diet soda is a cure for weight gain, think again. A new study suggests that it not only doesn’t protect against obesity, it might actually be driving you to eat more junk food.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign looked at the dietary habits of more than 22,000 U.S. adults, and discovered that the more diet beverages you consume, the more of your daily calories come from foods high in salt, sugar, fat and cholesterol. And it’s not because you don’t know any better: oddly, the more educated you are, the more likely you are to fall into the trap, the study found.

Although diet-beverage drinkers consumed fewer overall calories each day than people who drank sugary drinks, a larger percentage of their calories came from junk foods. The diet sodas seemed to be driving them to eat more bad-for-you foods, according to University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Ruopeng An. To get a definitive answer on the virtues and vices of diet soda, the editors of Eat This, Not That! looked at the research and discovered the truth about zero-calorie beverages.

DIET SODA SECRET #1

IT TRICKS YOU INTO THINKING YOU’RE HEALTHY

Because choosing a zero-calorie beverage gives you an instant health halo, you may be more likely to feel justified reaching for a bag of chips or a carb-heavy muffin, An says. “If people simply substitute diet beverages for sugar-sweetened beverages, it may not have the intended effect because they may just eat those calories rather than drink them.” In fact, people who consume diet beverages tend to be less healthy, overall, than people who do not, according to an earlier study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

DIET SODA SECRET #2

IT SENDS YOUR BODY SEEKING CALORIES

“Artificial sweeteners affect our sense of satiety,” says Isabel Smith, MS RD CDN, of Isabel Smith Nutrition. “Our bodies have evolutionarily developed to expect a large amount of calories when we take in something exceedingly sweet, and those artificial sweeteners are from 400 times to 8,000 times sweeter than sugar. It causes a couple things to happen: The muscles in your stomach relax so you can take in food, and hormones are released. With artificial sweeteners, your body says, ‘Wait a minute, you told me you were going to give me all this high-calorie food.’ It can actually send some people searching for more food, out of lack of satisfaction.”

DIET SODA SECRET #3

IT TRAINS YOUR TASTE BUDS TO CRAVE SWEETS

Consuming super-sweet beverages — even if that sweetness comes without calories — may lead to a high preference for sweetness overall. That means you’re more likely to choose the bread with more sugar, the peanut butter with more sugar, the ice cream with more sugar… And the effect may be more pronounced from diet drinks than from sugar-sweetened drinks, because artificial sweeteners are so much sweeter than real sugars.

DIET SODA SECRET #4

IT CAUSES YOU TO STORE FAT

A University of Texas study found that people who drank two or more diet sodas a day had waist-size increases that were six times greater than non-drinkers. Diet drinks are loaded with deceptively sweet artificial sweeteners, which, researchers say, trick the metabolism into thinking sugar is on its way, spike insulin levels, and shift the body from a fat-burning to a fat-storing state.

DIET SODA SECRET #5

IT MAKES YOU MISS OUT ON NUTRITION

While diet drinks are calorie-free, they’re also nutrition-free. That means you’re making the choice to get nothing when you could be getting something from healthy beverages like smoothies or teas. In fact, when Taiwanese researchers studied more than 1,100 people over a 10-year period, they determined that those who drank green tea had nearly 20 percent less body fat than those who drank none.

By Eat This, Not That! via Yahoo Beauty