Regular vs Diet Soda: Is There A Winner?

health risks of soda
Dr. Geoffrey Harris, MD

Circulation, the Journal of the American Heart Association, published a large study concerning soft drink consumption that got everyone talking. When it came out, the article was the “editor’s pick” for the week because of its provocative findings. It addressed whether people who drank soda were at a higher risk of developing a condition called “metabolic syndrome” and developing risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, including obesity, increased waist circumference, impaired fasting blood sugar, elevated blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol.

The study, which is part of the large, well-respected, Framingham Heart Study, found that individuals who drank one or more soft drinks (diet or regular) per day had a 50% higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome when compared with individuals who drank less than one soda a week. Metabolic syndrome puts people at risk for developing heart disease and diabetes.

Needless to say, this caused quite a stir. Soft drinks are big business in this country, and soft drink consumption has been increasing in all age groups over the past 30 years.

“Diet” Doesn’t Matter

Many people think that drinking diet soda avoids the calories of regular soda and therefore any health risk. The study said otherwise:

  • Both regular and diet soda increased the risks.
  • Frequent soda drinkers had a higher rate of having and developing risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.
  • The authors defined “frequent” as drinking only one or more soda each day.

Is it drinking soda that causes the health problems?

That’s a question many health experts asked. The study used dietary and lifestyle questionnaires to develop a correlation between drinking soda and developing risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. A study like this can identify and correlate behavior, but it cannot easily prove causality.

To put it simply, drinking soda may not cause the problems, but drinking soda is associated with other behaviors that may be the real cause of the problems. For example, soda drinking may be correlated with poor dietary choices.

The study also found a trend between increased soda consumption (diet or regular) and increased consumption of trans-fats, higher daily caloric intake, and lower intake of fiber. So, drinking soda could just be a sign of unhealthy dietary choices, which means the real question is this: “How do the choices we make about what we’re eating affect our health?”

Health Risks of Soda — What’s the Answer?

Regarding food, the well-known, nonagenarian Jack LaLanne once told Katie Couric in a Today show interview:

  1. “If man made it, don’t eat it.”
  2. “If it tastes good, spit it out.”

While I consider his statements extreme, his points are worth considering. Avoid processed foods, and think about what you are eating. (By the way, I think blueberries, spinach, turkey breast, whole grains, and lots of the other SuperFoods taste great! Why would I spit them out?)

Our goal at SuperfoodsRx is to make an effort to educate and empower our readers to make good choices. The answer to avoiding heart disease and diabetes isn’t as simple as drinking less soda. The answer is to choose SuperFoods that don’t contain the trans-fats (hydrogenated oils), high fructose corn syrups, and high sugar levels found in processed foods. Exercise and staying active are also important. Make good choices and good health will follow.

Source: Read the article from the Journal of the American Heart Association

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