Is your favorite diet soda putting you at risk for stroke?

December 1, 2017 Providence Health Team

Diet soda could be putting you at risk for stroke and heart complications.

It’s no mystery that sodas are not the healthiest option in a beverage lineup. Soda, whether sweetened with sugar or artificial sweetener, contains other ingredients like artificial flavors and colors that can lead to a whole host of health problems.

If you’re an avid soda drinker, you have probably tried switching to a diet version to help steer your health back on course. It’s a good idea to avoid the calories found in regular soda. However, diet soda may not be the healthy option you think it is. In fact, a recent study by the American Heart Association investigated links between diet soda and risk factors for stroke. They not only found a link between artificially flavored beverages and stroke, but also that sugary beverages consumed on a daily basis or multiple times a day may lead to illnesses such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, which are contributing factors to stroke, especially if you have a genetic history of the disease.

The problem with diet sodas

Artificially sweetened sodas are low in calories, which makes them seem like a good candidate for diet programs. However, the effects on your long-term health, especially your heart health, could prove less than ideal.

Possible cravings

Sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose trick your body into thinking that real sugar is about to enter the bloodstream, and yet it never comes. When this happens, no matter how much diet soda you consume, your body still waits for the real thing. Often, the lack of sugar leads to overcompensation and could potentially lead to binging on decadent treats later.

Changes in metabolism

When you expose your body to artificial sweeteners versus real sugar, your body releases a hormone called GLP-1 and your stomach empties contents into the intestines much faster – allowing more sugar to enter the bloodstream. This process results in blood sugar spikes and alters the way your body metabolizes real sugar.

Weight gain

The American Heart Association study mentioned earlier found that it isn’t the sugar in the beverages that contribute to poor health, rather the frequency of consumption. Eating sugar in moderation isn’t likely to hurt you because your body needs glucose to function properly. However, diet soda or not, drinking multiple glasses a day could potentially lead to weight gain based on other ingredients in the beverage that combine with your sugar intake. Artificial sweeteners are often recommended for patients with diabetes who can’t process real sugar, but be warned: diet soda should not replace water and naturally sweet whole fruits.

Dubious weight loss benefits.

It’s a good idea to speak to a health professional before starting any diet regimen, but some people choose diet soda as a way to work more health-conscious choices into their lifestyle. Diet soda, despite its namesake, doesn’t necessarily contribute to a weight loss program and therefore should be consumed with discretion. Some studies have linked artificial sweeteners to weight gain and obesity—a risk factor for stroke. However, before a credible baseline is established, more research will need to be conducted.

Until scientific research can outright prove that consuming artificial sweeteners doesn’t put you at risk for stroke or other diseases that lead to stroke, it’s best to play it safe and steer clear. If you have any questions about your daily sugar intake, contact your physician. In the meantime, you can try getting used to beverages that impart the sensations and benefits that come with drinking diet soda – without the consequences.

Here are some alternatives for diet soda:

  • If you crave bubbles, try a refreshing sparkling water infused with fresh fruits like strawberries, cucumber and mint, or lemon and orange slices. Lemon will give your body a boost of Vitamin C and can improve digestion, while strawberries offer antioxidants and fiber.
  • Get your caffeine fix by opting for iced coffee. Instead of adding sweetener, try having it with nut-based milk like coconut or almond milk and adding cinnamon for taste.
  • Brew a large, fresh pot of your favorite tea. Once it cools, add ice and store it in your fridge. It will keep for the week and give you a great excuse not to reach for soda if you’re looking for a cold beverage.
  • Kombucha is a refreshing, sparkly drink made from fermented tea. It can help suppress your appetite and increase energy levels. It often comes in natural flavors reminiscent of your favorite soda including root beer, cola and ginger ale.

If you can’t wean yourself off diet soda just yet, try minimizing your intake to a glass a day, then a half glass a day and so on. Speak to a medical professional to get more advice on sugar versus artificial sweeteners. Remember, if it’s the sugar fix you’re after, many fruit options will do the trick while also doing good for your body.

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