By Jessica Firger
Put down that zero-calorie beverage right now!
A new study finds diet drinks are associated with higher risk for stroke and heart attack. These findings add to the mounting evidence that while diet beverages don’t contribute to your daily calorie intake, they are detrimental to your health and significantly increase your risk for fatal chronic diseases.
The study, published in the journal Stroke, is based on data from self-reported questionnaires of 81,714 women aged 50 to 79 who took part in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. The researchers compared the health of women who consumed diet drinks less than once a week or not at all, to women who drank two or more diet beverages per week. These beverages included popular low and zero-calorie colas, sodas and fruit-flavored drinks.
The researchers found that women who frequently consumed these beverages had a 23 percent higher risk for stroke and a 29 percent higher risk for heart disease. They were also 16 percent more likely to die from any medical cause, meaning these drinks increased likelihood of premature death.
The risk for stroke and heart attack among women who frequently drink diet beverages appeared to be higher among African-American women and women who were obese.
Prior research suggests that in addition to stroke and heart attack, diet beverages are also associated with type 2 diabetes, dementia and metabolic syndrome. Researchers can’t say for sure whether it’s the artificial sweeteners that caused these diseases or some other lifestyle factors.
It’s important to note that these findings don’t indicate that you should instead return to drinking sugar-sweetened beverages. It’s well established that high-calorie drinks made from refined sugar raise risk for chronic diseases including obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
The good news is that you’re not destined to only drink bland water (though it’s probably the best and most important beverage to consume). Here are a few tricks to try: add fresh berries and lemon to your seltzer for a pleasant thirst-quencher, or brew some herbal tea, add fresh mint, and then put it on ice.