Have a diet coke and a stroke! Yeah, probably not the best advertising slogan.

New research suggests daily diet soda intake might lead to heart attacks or strokes.

Have a diet coke and a stroke! Yeah, probably not the best advertising slogan.

Well this is just fucking great:

Just as you were starting to feel virtuous for having switched from sugary sodas to low- or no-calorie substitutes, a new study comes along suggesting that diet sodas might be bad for your head and your heart.

The study, which followed more than 2,500 New Yorkers for nine or more years, found that people who drank diet soda every day had a 61 percent higher risk of vascular events, including stroke and heart attack, than those who completely eschewed the diet drinks, according to researchers who presented their results today at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference in Los Angeles.

via Daily diet soda tied to higher heart attack risk – Health – Diet and nutrition – msnbc.com.

It took a lot of time and willpower to switch from regular sodas to diet and it helped me to lose some weight in the process. As a result, regular sodas now taste like battery acid. Now to learn that I may be increasing my risk for heart attack or stroke by drinking diet makes me wonder why I worried so much about the diabetes from the regular stuff.

That said, the researchers are saying that this is just a preliminary study:

Still, the researchers aren’t ready to tell consumers to skip diet sodas. More studies need to be done before that happens, said the report’s lead author Hannah Gardener, an epidemiologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

“I think diet soda drinkers need to stay tuned,” Gardener said. “I don’t think that anyone should be changing their behaviors based on one study. Hopefully this will motivate other researchers to do more studies.”

The article goes on to say that the researchers weren’t able to account for all the possible factors so while the results seem to implicate diet sodas, it’s not confirmed they are the direct cause:

Does this mean there’s something in diet sodas that hurts our blood vessels? Nobody knows the answer to that question, yet, Gardener said. There could be something else that people who drink diet sodas have in common, she explained.

For example, it’s possible that people who drink diet sodas are replacing those saved sugar calories with other unhealthy choices, Gardener said.

That explanation makes a lot of sense to Dr. Nehal N. Mehta, director of inflammatory risk cardiology at the University of Pennsylvania. Although the researchers know the total calories study volunteers were consuming, they weren’t able to account for unhealthy eating habits, Mehta said.

“Maybe along with the diet soda, people are grabbing a Big Mac and a large fries,” Mehta said. “Soda may not be the villain. It may be the other things people consume in association with diet soda. After all, what goes better with pizza or fries than a soda?”

And I’m definitely guilty of ordering a Quarter Pounder with Cheese, fries, and a diet soda at the local McDonalds on occasion.

I’ve said before I have a hard time just drinking water as I don’t like the way it tastes  — and I know it’s not supposed to have a taste, but it does from the glass or the pipes or what have you — and it’s unsatisfying compared to something with some flavor.

But I suppose it’s time to start weaning myself off of diet sodas the same way I did regular soda. Not just because of this report, but due to others that suggest diet sodas might actually contribute to weight gain (though the evidence for that appears to be lacking as well) and other possible health issues.

In the long run it’s healthier to move toward greater water consumption even if it does bug the hell out of me. This is just one more nudge I can use to convince myself to do it.

15 comments

  1. I recently kicked my Mtn Dew habit of many years. I work in construction & carry a 52 oz mega-mug to keep hydrated. On a hot day of hard work, I’d refill it 2, maybe 3 times in one day. That can top a gallon of battery acid a day!

    I wouldn’t dream of changing to some revolting diet version, so I started brewing big pots of iced tea, generally green, sweetened with honey. I use way less sugar, and zero refined sweetener, than any soda has. And it’s good!

  2. Well, sodas aren’t really good for you anyway. The carbonation can make it difficult for your body to absorb certain things from food (like calcium). I don’t have a study to back that up though. :-P

    We drink soda here, but I also make a lot of tea (regular good ole southern sweet tea). I don’t put as much sugar in it as most people do. We actually prefer the tea over the soda…just easier to buy a soda than to make tea.

    The only issue is where I live you can’t get sweet tea in a restaurant. They have hot tea and flavored tea, which I can’t STAND.

    Maybe you can try drinking tea?

  3. This particular article is almost worthless except as sensationalism. I mean, the researchers go on to say, as you noted, that there could be several other factors that were the stroke-inducing culprits. If that’s the case, why did they get up and point the Accusing Finger at diet pop? I can only guess they had this increased stroke statistic and saying out loud “We dunno why” wouldn’t make good ink.

    However, I ain’t gonna try and defend pop in any way. No spin can make it out to be any sort of healthy choice for one’s body. There’s just so few other choices on a restaurant menu.

  4. A few suggestions, if you haven’t already tried them:

    As others have suggested, tea. Hot tea is great in the wintertime, or in the mornings and evenings like some drink coffee. Iced tea is awesome, and MUCH cheaper than any packaged drink. Even using 1/4 or less of the amount of sugar that soda contains makes tea quite sweet enough to be palatable to those who like sweet drinks. I also second the recommendation of using honey-it’s more expensive, but still cheaper than soda and tastes great. Also, you can use any of the artificial sweeteners that are available, and it will still be cheaper than soda. Use some lemon, and don’t make the tea too strong, and you can cut the sugar even more.

    Another low-sugar alrernative is water (or carbonated water, if the carbonation is important to you) mixed with 1/4-1/2 fruit juice. Grape or cherry juice work great for this. As with sweetened iced tea, there are still some calories from sugar, but not near as much as soda.

    My personal favorite is flavored, carbonated mineral water. It can be hard to find…it was extremely popular in the 80s, not so much now, but you can still find it. Perrier, Arrowhead, and a few other national brands produce it, and sometiomes you can even find a store brand in 1 liter bottles for a reasonable price. There are usually lemon, lime, citrus, and berry flavors. It’s not sweet, actually a tiny bit bitter, but it still has more of a “soda” flavor than water, and the carbonation helps. They are flavored with a small amount of citrus oil or “essence”- no sugar, no calories, and no artificial sweeteners either.

    I have been struggling with my “Coke addiction” for years. I have successfully cut down my soda intake to a fraction of what it was, but I still drink them when I really feel like it. In my 20s, I was up to 1 to 2 2-liter bottles a day, and by the time I got to my mid-thirties and got a desk job, I went from a lifelong skinny person to 40 pounds overweight in two years. Now I drink anywhere from 0 to 6 cans in a week.

    One more tip…if you like sodas too much to never have one again, buy one when you REALLY want one, but don’t keep them around the house. Cutting back by 90% is just as good as quitting, if you can get to the point where it feels normal.

    I was just about off them entirely, then last year Pepsi came out with “Pepsi Throwback”(not sure about the name choice, it reminds me of “Pepsi Throwup” or “Pepsi Backwash”), which is made with regular old sugar instead of corn syrup. Delicious. Some people say you can’t taste the difference, and they are full of shit. If Coke comes out with an old-school real-sugar version, I’m screwed…and fat.

  5. The knowledge that aspartame/NutraSweet is harmful has been around for decades. This study’s “find” is not surprising.

    Splenda and HFCS isn’t any healthier. The best option is to not drink soda period.

  6. If Coke comes out with an old-school real-sugar version, I’m screwed…and fat.

    FYI, the imported Mexican version (in the glass bottle) is real sugar. At first it was only available in the illegal immigrant stores but its increasingly showing up in normal stores and even restaurants.
    The only down side is the risks associated with drinking Mexican water…

  7. Correction: The knowledge that aspartame/NutraSweet is harmful has been a misconception held by a vocal minority for decades.

    Just thought that should be clarified.

  8. Hey Les,

    Long time reader, seldom poster.

    Just wanted to drop in to tell you that I 100% agree with you that water does have a taste and that not everyone likes it.

    I was lucky at kicking soft drinks. One year, my mum questioned my willpower and bet me $100 that I couldn’t go an entire year without soft drinks… I won. Until I realized that she won too and I very rarely drink soft drinks now (only when I’m at a party or something special… because I don’t drink alcohol either).

    I cannot recommend highly enough to mix a little bit of juice into your water to start drinking healthier. I know I need that flavour and that sugary taste and I can personally assure you that I’ve lost weight by drinking water mixed with juice as long as you don’t go overboard with the juice.

    Personally, I love V8’s new line of drinks called V8 Fusion (http://www.v8juice.com/faq_v8fusion.aspx). You’re drinking vegetable AND fruit juice, they’re pretty balanced comparatively with their sugar levels and they taste quite good, particularly the Cranberry Blackberry and the Passionfruit Tangerine. I started out by going 50/50 water/juice and I’ve gradually gotten myself to 70/30 water/juice. I would highly recommend checking those out.

    Also, I’ve taken to making myself smoothies and drinking them slowly over the course of the afternoon. 1 cup of frozen fruit (+some baby carrots if I feel like it), low-fat (0%) yogourt of your choice (about 4 spoonfuls) and the V8 juice of your choice, blend, boom. I can usually just have that for lunch on “low energy” days.

    No sodas, natural sugars, and I found a work around drinking water. Plus, I did lose weight and I’m a guy that’s not a huge fan of exercising.

    I know you don’t know me, and I’m really not trying to come off as preach-y or as a health nut or anything, I’m just a guy that was exactly like you: I loved sodas, hated drinking water and would rather spend the day playing games or watching movies than going to the gym. I found this solution worked for me and I thought I’d pass it on.

    All the best!

  9. Moloch:

    Yeah, several of my local convenience stores carry the Mexican Coke in 12oz glass bottles. I drink it sometimes, but it still tates a little different…it could just be a difference in water quality/filtration standards. It’s alright, but between the not-quite-right flavor and the price (around $1.75 for 12oz), I usually pass. Also, I overspoke a little…I have always preferred Coke to Pepsi but I swear that in the last few years they’ve slightly changed the American Coke formula (again). It could be my own tastes, or the result of plastic bottles vs, cans, but I swear that there is more of a sweet “clove” flavor than before, and a little less bite. So really, if they went back to the “Coke Classic before it was Coke Classic” recipe, with real sugar, I would love it. The late 70s-early 80s got a couple of things right, anyway.

    It’s funny you mentioned the risks of Mexican tap water…I’ve had plain tap water in Mexico several times, and I have had plenty of Mexican soft drinks (Coke, Jarritos, rice milk, and some fruit drink, off the top of my head) and never had a problem. The stereotype comes from tourists in smaller villages that draw their water from totally untreated community wells, which can make anyone sick if they are not used to the local microbes.
    The funny part is, the very last time I drank a Mexican Coke, I had two in one day, and also had a little stomach/intestinal upset that day and the next. I would hesitate to blame it on a drink I’ve had many times before, but it was a slightly amusing coincidence …if that was Montezuma’s Revenge, I’m not impressed.

  10. Diet soda always seemed like a sham to me, seeing how corrosive and weird sugary tasting the stuff still was (the idea that it would be good for anyone’s “diet” seemed laughable). I hate soda in general though (save for the occasional ginger ale or something mixed with booze).

    I can’t really understand the aversion to water. I like to drink water more than anything else especially since I usually like to get my hydration without the intrusion of unneeded flavors.

    When I do drink flavored stuff I like to go for things that are bitter or sour. Black or green teas… black coffee… water with lemon juice… stuff like that is what I’ll opt for if I’m drinking flavored things.

    I think sense of taste can change and acclimate over time as well. I’ve gotten more and more into bitter and sour stuff(pushing aside any “sweet” drinks) that some things I used to drink like orange juice or cranberry juice even seems way too sugary for me now.

  11. Duh, its the caffeine in the Diet coke that’s increasing the heart attack rate. Switch to caffeine free-problem solved. What a stupid study.

  12. MC, thanks for the link. It’s pretty much confirms my thoughts about the study’s preliminary status. Which is part of why the news article actually has folks saying that one shouldn’t modify one’s diet over it just yet.

    That said, sometimes it’s helpful to be reminded that even though a choice is better than an alternative choice, that doesn’t make it the best choice to be made. There are enough other potential problems with daily diet soda intake that this additional potential problem is good reason to reconsider it.

    Which isn’t to say anyone who read this article should join me in abandoning soda consumption, diet or otherwise, at all. That wasn’t the intent of my writing it. I was merely pontificating publicly on my decision to try and make more healthy choices in what I consume.

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