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It seems harmless, but a recent study shows that diet soda could be risky for your heart.
For ten years, researchers from the University of Miami and Columbia University followed about 2,500 New Yorkers who were over age 40 and had never had a stroke before the study.
The participants declared their soda-drinking habits before the study, and researchers contacted the participants about changes in their health each year. The participants who drank diet soda daily were most likely to experience a stroke or heart attack than the other participants.
The study that was published Jan. 27 showed that daily diet soda consumption was associated with more vascular risk factors.
The vascular risk factors are linked to metabolic syndrome. UK HealthCare cardiologist Alison Bailey described metabolic syndrome as a “constellation of everything bad.”
Metabolic syndrome includes high blood pressure, obesity, low HDL (heart protective) cholesterol, high triglycerides (fat) and high glucose.
“We know that your risk in developing cardiovascular disease over your lifetime is related to the number of risk factors you have,” Bailey said. “All of these things are risk factors.”
Bailey said it’s unknown whether something in the soda causes the risks or if people who drink more soda have unhealthy lifestyles. She said she believes it’s a combination of both.
“A lot of people will have a high-fat meal, or high-calorie meal, and grab a diet soda and think it equals out,” she said.
Bailey said some studies show that diet soda’s artificial sweeteners, which taste sweeter than sugar, can lead to more sugar cravings. She said when people eat sugar, they tend to eat more of it because it takes more sugar from other sources to satisfy the brain.
Bailey quit drinking diet soda a year and a half ago and lost ten pounds without changing any other habits. She said she doesn’t crave sweets as much and feels healthier.
Keith Parrott, a mechanical engineering junior, said he drinks about three diet sodas daily and often craves sugar.
“Not having that extra sugar makes you want to get more sugar from another source,” Parrott said. “I could see where it would make you want to drink regular pop or eat chocolate cake or something like that.”
Amanda Kirby, an accounting freshman, said she quit drinking soda for seven months. After having just one, she started drinking it again.
“I just drank one and then I just couldn’t stop,” she said. “They’re really good, but I just know they’re bad for you.”
She quit drinking soda again in January and said she can see a difference in weight.
“Whenever I drink more soda, I just don’t feel like exercising,” Kirby said. “I don’t feel like doing anything.”
She said she feels better and makes healthier choices overall when she doesn’t drink soda.
Bailey said if diet soda can’t be proven bad, it definitely can’t be proven good. She said water is the best choice.
However, Bailey said completely giving up soda might not be necessary.
“Moderation is key to everything in life,” she said. “I think if you drink one diet soda a week or one regular soda a week, you’ll be fine.”
Bailey said maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, avoiding cigarette smoke and eating a healthy diet – vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein sources – is how to have a healthy heart.