You’re eating a diet low in saturated and trans fat, exercising and watching your sodium – all healthy habits that can keep your heart happy. But now there’s one more thing to add to your heart risk to-do list: Can the diet soda. An abstract presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2011 indicated that people who reported drinking a diet soda every day were 61% more likely to experience a vascular event, like a stroke or heart attack, than those who did not partake.
Diet Soda No Good for the Heart
It’s confusing news, since most people assume they’re making a healthier choice by drinking diet soda, thereby skipping the calories in the sugar-soaked regular version. Diet soft drinks are free of (or have very few) calories, but that doesn’t mean they’re a healthier choice. According to the research, it’s still too early to definitively say why diet soda can increase your heart risk, but based on what science has shown so far, it’s enough to warrant a diet soda slowdown.
Kick Diet Soda=Healthier Diet
If you’re drinking a daily diet soda, the truth is it’s probably taking the place of something more healthful you should be knocking back instead. Low-fat milk or water should make up the majority of your daily drinks, which you can supplement with nutritive extras, like one small serving (4 oz) of 100% fruit juice if you like. Plus, sugar substitutes are used to sweeten the majority of diet sodas (most of which are not endorsed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer health watchdog group). With so many questions still existing about the safety of artificial sweeteners (except sucralose), it’s better to find a fizzy alternative without the dubious artificial sweeteners (see below for ideas).
Need another reason to kick the diet soda habit if you want to control your heart risk? Besides this newest link to heart risk, 2005 research from the University of Texas research a correlation between drinking diet soda and increased risk for obesity – which ups your risk for heart disease.
Make a Heart-Happy Healthy Drink Sub
If you’re used to a daily diet soda fix, you don’t have to axe the ritual of drinking something fizzy and crisp. Instead, try swapping it out for a caffeine-free green tea you’ve brewed yourself, topped off with a splash of 100% juice (like pomegranate or cherry) and ice-cold seltzer water. Or, just keep it simple by cracking open a can of unflavored seltzer and adding a squeeze from a lime or orange wedge. If you crave caffeine, not fizz, try an iced latte made with low-fat milk; you’ll get a pick-me-up libation with the added benefits of vitamins, minerals, and protein.
The Bottom Line
Diet soda isn’t a healthy choice – it’s linked to increased heart risk as well as other health issues. Even though it’s free of calories, it’s full of additives and artificial sweeteners that your body just doesn’t need. It’s better to try a healthier alternative to quench your thirst.
Beth Sumrell Ehrensberger is a Registered Dietitian and holds a Master Degree in Public Health. An experienced nutrition counselor, writer and public speaker, Beth specializes in translating complex nutrition information into practical concepts. Beth was awarded a Nutrition Communications Fellowship to the National Cancer Institute, and has worked on the internationally recognized Nutrition Action Healthletter of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.