Q. A few years ago, I switched from regular soda to diet soda—and lost 12 pounds. My husband tells me diet soda is bad for me, but isn’t it better than the sugary stuff?
A. It’s great that you stopped drinking sugar-sweetened soda and trimmed down. Soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages are major contributors to weight gain and other bodily changes that increase the risk for cardiovascular disease. But it’s not clear whether diet soda is better.
In February, news stories reported on a study that found daily diet soda drinkers were more likely to have a stroke or heart attack or to die from vascular disease over 10 years than those who drank none or less than one a month.
While this study only hints at a connection between diet soda and cardiovascular risk, it’s not the first. An earlier report found that, compared with people who didn’t drink diet soda, those who drank it every day had a 36% greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a concurrent cluster of high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels that increases the risk for cardiovascular disease.
While researchers try to clarify any link between diet soda and heart disease, an occasional diet soda is unlikely to cause harm, but plain old tap water is cheap, readily available, and the healthier choice.
— Richard Lee, M.D.
Harvard Heart Letter