Here’s yet another reason to ditch diet soda. While several studies have already shown the health risks of drinking sugary beverages (from weight gain to type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease), a new study of nearly 452,000 people found that even sugar-free diet sodas are linked to a higher risk of death.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at both artificially-sweetened and sugar-sweetened soft drink consumption in people from 10 different countries across Europe (the U.K., France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain and Sweden) and their effects on mortality.
The bottom line: People who consumed two or more glasses of either artificially-sweetened or sugar-sweetened soft drinks per day were found to have a higher risk of death, compared to those who drank one glass or less per day.
What’s interesting is that the research also found the causes of death differed between people who consumed sugar-sweetened vs. artificially-sweetened soft drinks. Those who drank sugar-sweetened sodas were more likely to have digestive-related deaths, which include diseases of the liver, pancreas, appendix and intestines, while people who consumed more artificially-sweetened drinks were more likely to die from circulatory diseases, such as coronary artery disease.
“For years people have been drinking artificially-sweetened drinks, thinking they aren’t going to have any consequences,” Liz Weinandy, a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “But there are a number of diseases people are at an increased risk for with these drinks. Regardless of whether you’re using artificial sweeteners or regular sugar, it appears that there are negative health consequences with either one.”
Weinandy adds: “Sugar is not good for us in large amounts. We know that’s pretty clear cut. It increases inflammation in the body and that leads to a whole host of health conditions. But these sugar substitutes are not risk-free. More and more evidence appears to show that they also have a negative influence on our health.”
Of course, cutting down on sugary and artificially-sweetened sodas when you’ve been drinking them daily isn’t exactly easy. “Some dietitians say, ‘Just switch to water. It’s not that hard.’ But it is that hard,” shares Weinandy. Instead, she suggests starting by trying to wean yourself down to one soft drink per day.
“When you look at these studies, it’s often two or more a day,” she says, referring to the consumed amount that’s frequently linked to health problems. “Can you get down to a few a week? If you get down to one a day, you may lose your taste for it. Our taste buds get adjusted either way. This is going to be a little hard, but things will adjust and it will get a lot better.”
Switching to sparkling water to get that same carbonation or flavoring your water by adding chunks of fresh fruit, basil, or mint can also help.
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