Thursday, February 10, 2011

Diet Soda and Stroke: What's the Link?

Oh boy, you really can't take anything at face value when it comes to research. It has been reported today that diet soda may not be the best alternative to regular soda and has still been associated with vascular events such as heart attacks and stroke. Is this backlash to Diet Coke's promotion of Heart month?

Over the course of 9 years, the soda consumption habits of 2,500 New Yorkers were followed, and it was found that people who drank diet soda every day had a 61% higher risk of vascular events, including stroke and heart attack, than people who avoided soda all together. These were people who reported having a diet soda every day. For nine years? Wow!

Now, I don't have the figures on how high someone's risk might be if they went for a regular soda every day for nine years, but my spider sense tells me that their risk would be a heck of a lot higher. Despite the headlines blaring that diet soda isn't a good choice, potentially swaying consumers' decisions to sticking with the regular stuff, the researchers warn that this one study shouldn't be enough have that effect. We do know that swapping out all that sugar and all those calories has its benefits, no matter how you slice it.

Just as with all research, you have to take the findings with a grain of salt. There are strong associations between people choosing 'diet' foods and beverages, and failing to lose weight, because they think 'this has less (or zero) calories, so I'll also have this, and this, and one more of these'. Perhaps that's not their exact thought process, but you get my flow. Instead of one cup of regular popcorn, why not have two of the diet kind? The end result might still be unhealthy.

Dr. Nehal N. Mehta, director of inflammatory risk cardiology at the University of Pennsylvania agrees. Although the researchers know the total calories study volunteers were consuming, they weren’t able to account for unhealthy eating habits, Mehta said.“Maybe along with the diet soda, people are grabbing a Big Mac and a large fries,...Soda may not be the villain. It may be the other things people consume in association with diet soda. After all, what goes better with pizza or fries than a soda?” Brilliant.

So before you start panicking that your Diet Coke is going to give you a stroke, perhaps just don't have one every day for 9 years, and skip the Big Mac and fries while you're at it.