Sugar-sweetened beverages have developed a very bad reputation over the past decade or so. They contribute empty calories without corresponding nutritional value. Sugary drinks have been linked to kidney damage as well as weight gain. As a result, many people have turned to diet soda as a more healthful alternative. Now, however, results from the Women’s Health Initiative have thrown cold water on that plan.
What Are the Risks of Diet Soda?
The Women’s Health Initiative is a huge study including more than 81,000 postmenopausal women. Researchers have been tracking their dietary habits, including beverage preferences, for the past 12 years. They have also kept tabs on the volunteers’ health status.
In a new publication in the journal Stroke, the scientists write that women who drank two or more cans of diet soda daily were 23 percent more likely to have a stroke during the study (Mossavar-Rahmani et al, Stroke, Feb. 14, 2019). Nearly two-thirds of the women didn’t drink diet soda or drank it rarely. In comparison to them, women who drank at least two servings of diet soda a day were 30 percent more likely to have a stroke caused by a blood clot in the brain. They were also 29 percent more likely to develop heart disease and 16 percent more likely to die during the study. Heavy women were at particularly high risk.
Previous Danger Signal for Diet Soda:
Many people drink diet soda with the intention of staying slim and healthy–or at least not getting any fatter. But at least one earlier study suggested that this strategy could backfire (Fowler et al, Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, March 17, 2015).
SALSA Study in San Antonio:
In the bi-ethnic San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging (dubbed SALSA), 750 people 65 or above completed questionnaires about their diets every few years.
Bigger Bellies on Diet Soda Drinkers:
During the follow-up period of about nine years, people who drank diet soda every day added an extra 3 inches to their waistlines. By way of comparison, those who never drank diet pop added a little less than an inch during that time.
While this is an association and doesn’t prove causation, it is troubling. Extra fat around the middle is linked to a higher risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
What Should You Be Drinking?
The recent research from the Women’s Health Initiative established a correlation between diet soda consumption and the chance of a stroke or heart problem. It does not demonstrate that diet soda causes cardiovascular problems. However, if these beverages won’t help you lose weight or waistline, you may want to reconsider their use. Drinking water or unsweetened tea or coffee instead of artificially sweetened beverages might be a healthier choice.