Diet soda sweetened with artificial sweeteners has been under the gun lately. Some say they are bad for you; others that they are harmless. One company says that diet soda could help you to lose weight by cutting out sugar. Then a report comes out that says these same products are likely to increase your appetite and cause you to gain weight. It seems scientists still haven’t reached a consensus about how beneficial (or harmful) diet soda may be. More proof for the naysayers has just arrived, however. According to a new study, drinking lots of diet soda can up your risk for heart disease.
Researchers at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine discovered that there was a significant increased heart disease risk among those who drank diet soda daily — but not with those who drank regular soda.
The research team evaluated the soda habits of 2,564 people enrolled in the large Northern Manhattan Study (NOMAS) to see if there was an association, if any, with stroke. The participants were 69 years of age, on average, and completed food questionnaires about the type of soda they drank and how often.
During the average nine-year follow-up, 559 vascular events occurred, including strokes caused by hemorrhage and those caused by clots, known as “ischemic strokes.”
The researchers were careful to account for such factors as age, gender, ethnicity, physical activity, calorie intake, smoking and alcohol drinking habits, but still came up with the same results: those who drank diet soda daily were 61% more likely to have a heart event.
The researchers even went one step further. They checked for the presence of metabolic syndrome, vascular disease in the limbs, and heart disease history. The link between diet soda and heart disease still held, albeit at a somewhat lower 48%.
The researchers were unable to determine why diet soda was linked to heart disease. Previous research by others has suggested that those who drank more than one soft drink a day, whether regular or diet, were more likely than non-drinkers to have metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome, in turn, raises the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, experts agree.
So what can you do if diet soda seems the better alternative to regular soda when it comes to calories? Just remember that diet soda, like most things, should be drunk in moderation. Try substituting water if you find yourself reaching for a can more than once or twice a day. And if water doesn’t do the trick, try green or black tea, fruit juice, or sparkling water with a little lemon or lime added. You might just be protecting your heart.