Posted on Jan 12, 2021, 6 p.m.
It is no secret that the soda industry has long been recognized as a major contributor to the global obesity epidemic. In an attempt to change the narrative Big Soda is spending big cash to push diet drinks. However, according to research artificial sweeteners are not the health boon alternative that the industry is hoping for.
This study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that heavy consumers of both sugary and diet drinks had a higher risk of first incident cardiovascular disease, including stroke and heart attack compared to participants who drank neither.
Consumption of added sugars in excess has been well documented as being a risk factor for diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Most 12 ounce cans of soda contain up to 11 teaspoons of added sugar which is more than half of the daily recommended intake for children. These diet drinks do not appear to be the healthy alternative either, with research indicating there is a connection between artificially sweetened drinks and obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic problems.
For this study data was used from the ongoing long-term NutriNet-Sante research analysis of the connection between nutrition and health. This study included 104,760 participants that were asked to fill out 3 validated web-based 24-hour dietary records every 6 months. Artificially sweetened beverages were defined as those containing non-nutritive sweeteners. Sugary drinks consisted of all beverages containing 5% or more sugar. For each beverage category, participants were divided into non-consumers, low consumers and high consumers.
First incident cases of cardiovascular disease were looked at during a follow-up from 2009-2019, which was defined as being stroke, transient ischemic attack, myocardial infarction, acute coronary syndrome and angioplasty. 1,379 participants were found to have had first incident cases of cardiovascular disease after excluding the first 3 years of follow-up to account for potential reverse causality bias. After taking into account a wide range of confounding factors higher consumers of sugary drinks and artificially sweetened drinks were found to have had higher risks for first incident cardiovascular disease compared to non-consumers.
"Our study suggests artificially sweetened beverages may not be a healthy substitute for sugar drinks, and these data provide additional arguments to fuel the current debate on taxes, labeling and regulation of sugary drinks and artificially sweetened beverages," said Eloi Chazelas, Ph.D. student, lead author of the study and a member of the Nutritional Epidemiology Research Team.
The team was said to establish a causal link between sugary and artificially sweetened beverages and cardiovascular disease, replication in large prospective cohorts and mechanistic investigations will be needed.
Dieticians, doctors, and scientists warn that routine consumption of artificially sweetened food/drink may alter a person’s taste for things naturally sweetened, and as they often have little to no calories research suggests that they may confuse our metabolism which increases the risk of gaining fat.
The US FDA has approved 6 artificial sweeteners including sucralose(Splenda) and aspartame(Nutrasweet, Sugar Twin, Equal, and others). Based on studies the Center for Science in the Public Interest considers both of these artificial sweeteners to pose a risk of cancer. Aspartame is also linked to irritability, anxiety, headaches, depression, seizures, insomnia, and behavioral and cognitive problems. Sucralose can potentially disrupt the healthy balance of flora in the gut microbiome to cause inflammation, impact blood sugar control, risk of metabolic syndrome, and toxicity in heated foods.
Perhaps given the evidence it might be best to drink water rather than sugary drinks after all as research shows that high consumption of both types of beverages is associated with a higher risk of heart disease. If you don’t like plain water try herbal teas, or placing some fresh fruit slices and herbs into the water to give it a splash of taste, for example, a few mint leaves with a slice of lemon.
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