Research connects the drinks to higher heart risks.
You may think you’re doing yourself a favor by opting for an ice-cold diet soda every afternoon instead of the sugar-sweetened version and all the calories that go with it. Not so fast: recent research suggests that diet sodas may also lead to problems.
In a study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, researchers found that people who drank diet sodas daily were at a higher risk for vascular events, such as heart attack and stroke, compared with those who drank fewer diet sodas or even those who drank regular sugar-sweetened sodas.
The results of the study do not necessarily mean that drinking diet sodas causes vascular disease. Rather, the study suggests people who drink diet sodas may also be consuming other foods and drinks that contain lots of sweet but empty calories. Drinking diet beverages may “condition the human taste buds to crave very sweet foods,” says Dr. Eric Rimm, associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Diet soda signals
Dr. Rimm says that people who drink sodas of any kind tend to have a sweet tooth. So the diet sodas don’t give you calories, but the sweet tooth they cause can lead you to eat and drink other foods that have plenty of calories.
Dr. Rimm says that previous research has shown that those who drink diet sodas are usually different from those who drink regular sodas. “For many, drinking diet soda is a marker of someone who is trying to lose weight or potentially already has existing health conditions.”
Taking out the fizz
Dr. Rimm says he knows of no obvious reason why the artificial sweeteners in diet sodas might directly raise cardiovascular risks. On the other hand, we do know that sugar-sweetened beverages lead to weight gain and chronic disease. For some people, sugary soda consumption can represent 10% to 20% of their total daily calories. “And they’re all empty calories,” he points out.
“Most studies show that exchanging soda of any kind with water, tea, or coffee is where you see the greatest benefit,” he says.