Just because a product says “diet” on the label doesn’t mean that it is healthy. So, when you switch from full-sugar soda to diet, it’s not necessarily getting you off scot-free. You may actually be risking stroke or a heart attack.
A study just published followed over 2,500 New Yorkers for about 10 years. They found that some diet soda drinkers had a 61 percent higher risk of vascular events, such as stroke and heart attack.
Now, let’s talk you off the ledge.
First, this study’s findings were for those who drank soda every day. I know that a lot of people drink diet soda on a daily basis, so maybe that’s not enough to alleviate your worries. I would say that it should be easy enough to moderate your soda intake to a few days a week, but even with these finding, the researchers aren’t prepared to put out a hard stance against drinking diet soda on a regular basis.
“I think diet soda drinkers need to stay tuned,” says the study’s lead author Hannah Gardener, an epidemiologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “I don’t think that anyone should be changing their behaviors based on one study. Hopefully this will motivate other researchers to do more studies.”
While the researchers are saying that more research is needed before we really worry about excessive diet soda intake, what I say is why wait to get the bad news? I’m not saying give up soda completely. In my eyes, if a nine year study showed that daily diet soda intake may cause stroke or heart disease, that’s enough for me to think that maybe I should cut back to a few days a week.
While I have my dietary temptations, luckily I’ve had no problem moderating soda. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my occasional bubbly soda, but it’s not even something I have ever made a conscious effort to moderate and I think I probably average one or two sodas a week.
The study accounted for other health risk factors, such as smoking and alcohol consumption. Maybe the most interesting findings from the study was that the risk was only with diet soda, not regular soda. So, what may be in the diet soda that could be causing the increase in vascular disease risk?
Well, part of the reason researchers say there needs to be more studies on the matter is that there may be a common behavior with diet soda drinkers that could, in essence, vindicate the diet soda itself. For instance, maybe diet soda drinkers make up for their sugar cravings in other ways. Or maybe they are making other bad dietary decisions.
“Maybe along with the diet soda, people are grabbing a Big Mac and a large fries,” said Dr. Nehal N. Mehta, director of inflammatory risk cardiology at the University of Pennsylvania. “Soda may not be the villain. It may be the other things people consume in association with diet soda. After all, what goes better with pizza or fries than a soda?”