Someone who enjoys soft drinks but is concerned with caloric and carbohydrate intake would likely be inclined to order calorie-free or ‘diet’ sodas, when available. If there’s no sugar, and no calories, it should be a healthier and guilt-free option. Right?
This study included over 450,000 adults, in 10 European countries. Researchers found that daily consumption of all types of soft drinks was associated with increased all-cause mortality, or more simply a higher risk of early death from any cause (1).
Oddly, and contrary to most people’s beliefs regarding sugar aversion, those who drank artificially sweetened beverages had a higher risk. Rates were 9% higher than those consuming the full-sugar versions (1).
When it comes to soft drinks, there is no generally no healthier option (however, there are some we’ll mention later). By now it should be widely known that soft drinks are harmful, and we are constantly reminded by health experts, friends and family that we should remove them from our diet.
This is by far the largest study on soft drink consumption and its relation to mortality, with previous studies also reflecting these results. The new research suggests that people who consume two or cups (250ml) of diet soda a day have a 26% increased risk of dying within the next 16 years. Sugar-based soda also increased the risk, but less so at 17%
When it comes to artificial sweeteners and death by circulatory diseases, there was a 52 percent increased risk.
For those who consume more than 2 cups (500ml) of diet soda per day, which is still less than two standard cans, the risk of death within 16 years was raised by an additional eight percent.
Dr. Neil Murphy, the leader for this study shares: “The striking observation in our study was that we found positive associations for both sugar-sweetened and artificially-sweetened soft drinks with risk of all-cause deaths.” (2)
While it is still unclear why this is exactly, it makes us reevaluate the risk/benefit ratio of diet sodas offer. Not only do studies like this cast doubt, but artificial sweeteners in diet drinks have also been linked to other issues like glucose intolerance (1)(3).
Long-term health consequences of consuming aspartame and acesulfame potassium are still being studied, and with this finding, it should be clear that consumption may not be worth the risk.
“Artificially sweetened soft drinks have few or no calories; however, their long-term physiological and health implications are largely unknown,”(4) the study authors wrote.
While a study like this is limited to associations, the authors did take into account many variables that could confound/misrepresent the results, including smoking, high BMI, and obesity.
“In our study, high soft drinks consumers had a higher body mass index (BMI) and were also more likely to be current tobacco smokers,”
“We made statistical adjustments in our analyses for BMI, smoking habits and other mortality risk factors which may have biased our results, and the positive associations remained.” the authors noted (5)
Like any study, this one isn’t perfect. As mentioned, the findings are associations only, so it does not show true cause and effect when it comes to soda of any kind.
The authors noted that there was a potential for what is known as “reverse causality” where soda drinkers share other common qualities, indicating the possibility for a different explanation for the actual cause of the effect (1)(5).
The Bottom Line
The take-home message here is to minimize your soda intake diet or otherwise. The drink of choice should be water. If you absolutely cannot survive without a carbonated beverage, treat yourself to the occasional kombucha, water kefir, or carbonated water flavored with small amounts of real fruit juices, not ‘natural’ or artificial flavors.
Like any other change to your lifestyle, it takes some time and effort. Changing behavior is not easy for most people. If you’re a daily consumer of diet or regular soda, it may be best to find an alternative and allow yourself a treat, here and there. If you consume soda, make it a rarity and for special occasions only. According to the study, 1 or fewer servings per month is most likely not an issue.
One of the best ways to end the consumption is to stop bringing it home – if it’s cold and ready in your fridge, you’ll drink it. Replace the habit, by replacing the beverage.
- Association Between Soft Drink Consumption and Mortality in 10 European Countries https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2749350?guestAccessKey=b99410a9-8afc-4953-b328-bbb2620dfacd
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