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Does switching to diet soft drinks improve health?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Diet beverages studied in context of whole diet.

Recent news that diet soft drinks might lead to stroke, heart and other health problems has left consumers confused. Weight loss programs suggest diet drinks are better for reducing calories, weight loss and overall health. Researchers from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have some new insight about how zero- calorie beverages impact health in a study that looks at diet drink consumers and overall diet.

Healthiest people skip diet soft drinks altogether

Not surprisingly, the researchers found people who drink diet sodas are less healthy than people who skip them altogether.

For the study, Kiyah Duffey, Ph.D., study author and research assistant professor of nutrition at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health found people who eat a ‘prudent diet’ consisting of fruits, whole grains, fish, nuts and milk, but no diet beverages are healthiest.

Duffey said in a press release, “It is important that people consider the entirety of their diet before they consider switching to or adding diet beverages, because without doing so they may not realize the health benefits they were hoping to see.”

In other words, there are a variety of dietary factors that contribute to overall health, the researchers explain.

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Compared to a Western diet, which includes diet soft drinks, consumed in an effort to cut calories, people who merely switch to zero-calorie beverages were still found to be at risk for metabolic syndrome and high blood pressure.

In comparison, people who skipped diet beverages altogether had small waistlines, lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels and lower risk of metabolic syndrome. The second healthiest group in the 20-year study consumed a prudent diet and also drank diet beverages.

The findings come from data extracted from 4,000 young adults who participated in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, over a 20-year span.

The study shows a prudent diet lowers your risk of heart attack and stroke, compared people who drink diet beverages and consume a typical Western diet.. Duffey says diet beverages only have a positive health impact …”in the context of the whole diet.”

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
"Dietary patterns matter: diet beverages and cardiometabolic risks in the longitudinal Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study"
Kiyah J Duffey, et al.
doi: 10.3945/​ajcn.111.026682
April, 2012

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