Inside the Diet Soda Debate

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Inside the Diet Soda DebateIn the cabinet marked “healing foods,” you are unlikely to ever find a member of the soft drink clan. Cursed by sugar, soda has been earmarked as a major contributor to the obesity epidemic.

Hence the rise of diet soda, sweetened artificially. But what is the word on diet soda? Is it good or bad?

A new study enters the fray, shedding light on the impact that zero-calorie drinks might have on your health.

The landscape here is a bit confusing. Many studies suggest that diet beverages are linked to heart disease. But others say they are a viable way to help lose or control weight. But most studies have failed to link a person’s drinking pattern with his or her overall dietary habits. And therein may lay the answer.

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A team of U.S. researchers sought that answer recently. Overall, they found that people who down diet beverages tend to be less healthy than those who avoid them. But, your overall diet is a critical factor in whether that diet soda is okay or harmful. They assessed data from 4,000 young adults over a 20-year span.

There were two groups: those who followed a “prudent” diet with more fruit, fish, whole grains, nuts and milk; and those on a “Western” diet, which favored more fast food, meat and poultry, pizza, and snacks.

The healthiest, no surprise, were those on the prudent diet who didn’t drink diet soda. They had a lower waist circumference, lower triglyceride levels, and less risk of metabolic syndrome than those on the Western diet who also did not drink diet soda.

However, the second-healthiest group consisted of those on the prudent diet who did drink diet soda.

Any way you sliced it, following the Western diet led to greater risks of heart disease, regardless of diet soda. This helps confirm recommendations from the American Diabetes Association and many dieting programs. These suggest that people drink diet soda to try to cut calories or control weight — but only in the context of the whole diet.

So, in the end, it doesn’t matter as much about what you have to wash down your meals. What matter more are the meals themselves. If you are a subscriber to “The Food Doctor,” a Doctors Health Press newsletter, you’ll know the refrain: whole foods, more vegetables and legumes, less meat and less fat. Shop the outer aisles of the supermarket for way longer than the inner aisles.

And if you want, have some diet soda (in moderation). But water or low-fat milk is still light years better.