Most healthcare professionals will tell you that avoiding sugary drinks is important for good health. But are you making the switch to beverages that are just as bad for you, or maybe even worse? Before you guzzle another glass of something labeled sugar-free, it’s time to look closely at the sugar alternatives we all consume. A new study published in the The Journal of the American College of Cardiology reveals that sugary drinks and artificially sweetened beverages can both be linked to cardiovascular disease (CVD).
5. How the Study Was Conducted
Over 100,000 people participated in the French Nutrinet-Sante decade-long study from 2009 to 2019. Participants were categorized as “non consumers, low consumers and high consumers” of sugary and sugar-alternative beverages. Artificially sweetened beverages (ASB) were categorized for the study as those with non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS).
The results? Participants who regularly drank sugary drinks and/or artificially sweetened beverages had higher risk for cardiovascular disease. Those who avoided drinks made with sugar were just as susceptible to heart disease if they consumed non-nutritive sweeteners instead. The higher the consumption of each, the higher the risk of CVD.
4. Other Reasons to Ditch the Diet Drinks for Good
Artificial sweeteners in diet soda have already been linked to a significant increase in belly fat. According to a San Antonio study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, older adults who drank diet soda developed as much as triple the amount of belly fat as participants who didn’t drink these artificially sweetened beverages.
Access belly fat, also called visceral fat, produces small proteins called cytokines, which help control the growth of immune cells. Too many cytokines from too much belly fat can cause chronic inflammation linked to chronic disease.
3. Artificial Sweeteners Also Make Us Want More Sweets
Many artificial sweeteners are much sweeter per serving than sugar, thus can actually cause heightened cravings for sugary foods and beverages. So much for drinking diet soda to save calories and lose weight! The more you consume diet drinks, the more likely you’ll crave the sugary drinks and foods you’ve been trying to avoid.
The more we learn about these non-nutritive sweeteners, the more it’s clear that drinking diet sodas and other beverages with NNS is actually sabotaging our weight control goals while putting our hearts at risk for disease.
2. Which Sweeteners Are Considered NNS?
In spite of their own warnings about the health risks of diet soda, The American Heart Association (AHA) still provides health articles that recommend NNS as healthier alternatives to sugar in drinks. Non-nutritive sweeteners are basically those that have no nutrient value, and often have no calories or low calorie content.
FDA-approved non-nutritive sweeteners include aspartame, acesulfame-K, neotame, saccharin and sucralose. The AHA also states that allulose, monk fruit, and stevia are labeled by the FDA as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) non-nutritive sweeteners.
1. How to Kick the Sweetened Drink Habit
Breaking the habit of sugary and artificially sweetened drinks can be difficult. Missing the flavor, the comfort they bring, and the social connection to others who drink similar beverages can make the detox period even harder. To kick the sweetened drink habit, you might start with fruit-infused water. Berries and citrus fruits have natural sweeteners that can give water and sparkling water a sweeter taste. Switching to herbal teas might help, as well, whether served hot or chilled. Over time, your cravings for sweetened drinks will likely decrease as your body adjusts to the switch.