You can’t trust anything that promises to take something terrible for you, keep it delicious and also make it magically healthy. Tempting though it is to think that all food is fine if it has a mitigating “diet” prefixed to it, life, sadly, is not that simple. If you want something to taste nice, but insist on taking out all the sugar, there are going to have to be sacrifices.
Thanks largely to these suspicions, there have always been question marks over the viability of diet soda. Ever since it burst onto the scene in 1963, certain people have been baffled by the claim that it is just like the soft drinks they know and love, but ultimately won’t rot their teeth. Something has never quite added up.
For once, the sceptics might be onto something. Over the years, several studies have suggested that the artificial sweeteners and additives that make up every diet soda’s complex chemical cocktail can be just as, if not even more damaging than their original counterparts. Diet sodas have been accused of causing everything from weight gain to heart disease. It’s not a pretty picture for anyone on the hunt for a healthy soft drink alternative.
Unfortunately for any of the millions of trusting diet soda fans still out there, a new report released this year suggests that the situation could actually be even worse than we ever imagined. Commissioned by the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, the new research claims that “consuming diet sodas and juices is linked to a higher risk of stroke and heart disease, as well as a higher risk of dying early from any cause,” according to reporting from Insider.
Scientists, who conducted a comprehensive, large-scale study of around 80,000 women over the age of 50, concluded that not only were artificially sweetened drinks linked to an increased likelihood of suffering heart attacks, clot-based strokes and early death, but also that drinking two or more diet sodas a day can increase the risk of a stroke by as much as 23%.
Speaking after the publication of the results at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, study lead professor Yasmin Mossavar-Rahmani said, "Many well-meaning people, especially those who are overweight or obese, drink low-calorie sweetened drinks to cut calories in their diet. Our research and other observational studies have shown that artificially sweetened beverages may not be harmless and high consumption is associated with a higher risk of stroke and heart disease."
Other scary statistics suggested that women who drink artificially sweetened drinks are also around 29% more likely to develop heart disease and 16% more likely to die from any cause. While it’s worth noting that the study was “observational and relied on participants' own reporting,” the authors stress their belief that the results should not be ignored.
Of course, despite the gloomy headlines, there are some limits to what even a study as extensive as this can actually tell us. For instance, the focus on post-menopausal women doesn’t provide any insight into the implications for other demographics. Nonetheless, the report certainly suggests that sugar-free soda may not be as innocent as we all would like.