You may know that drinking sugar-sweetened drinks isn’t the wisest health move. Sodas, coffee or tea with sugar, lemonade, sports drinks, and fruit punch aren’t just bad for your waistline. Consuming a lot of these beverages increases your risk for heart attacks and stroke.
But you might be surprised to know that diet drinks—those that contain artificial sweeteners—aren’t much better for your health or your heart. The latest evidence comes from a new study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. It involved more than 104,000 people who kept food diaries and filled out questionnaires about their meals, beverages, and exercise habits every six months for 10 years.
The data from the study linked above showed that people who consumed high amounts of sweet drinks or artificially sweetened drinks had a greater risk for strokes, heart attacks, and other heart problems. And people who consumed low levels of these drinks were at greater risk for heart problems than those who never drank them.
These results are similar to the findings of other recent research. Data in the journal, Circulation, including more than 37,000 men and 80,000 women, showed that those who drank the most sugar-sweetened or artificially sweetened drinks over a 30-year time period were the most likely to die from heart disease.
People who drank 2 or more sugary beverages a day increased their risk of death during the study period by 21% compared to those having less than one sugary drink a month. People who drank 2 or more diet drinks had a 4% greater risk of death and a 13% greater risk of death due to heart disease than those who drank the least amount of diet drinks.
Sugar is harmful because it causes people to gain weight, raises blood pressure, increases the risk of diabetes, and causes the liver to release harmful fats into the bloodstream. It’s also linked to chronic inflammation. All of these are risk factors for heart attacks and strokes.
Despite the lack of calories, diet drinks seem to increase fat in the body, and they have a negative effect on the bacteria that live in the intestines, which is called the gut microbiome. That can harm your heart’s health.
The message is clear: Sweet drinks put your heart and blood vessels at risk. What can you drink instead? Take these steps:
- First, try reducing the amount of sweet drinks you consume. You may want to dilute juices with water with a goal of switching to water or unsweetened tea and coffee instead.
- Next, cut the amount of sugar in your beverages to begin to change your tastebuds. For instance, ask for half sweet tea and half unsweetened tea in restaurants.
- Finally, experiment with drinking fizzy water with a squeeze of lemon juice or mixed with a small amount of fruit. Try low-sugar fruit drinks like this one, adapted from the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:
Fresh Fruit and Herb Sparkling Water Recipe
8 ounces fresh strawberries or other berries
1 cup cubed ripe melon (cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon)
2 cups ice cold water
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil or mint leaves
8 ounces club soda or tonic or sparkling water
Lemon slices, for garnish
Basil or mint sprigs, for garnish
Mix fruit, water, and basil or mint in a blender. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes, then pour over ice. Add 2 ounces fizzy water and garnish each glass with lemon slices and basil or mint. Serves 4.
Feel free to try different fruit combinations. And use a sparkling wine instead of water for festive holiday events. When choosing sparkling wine, look for “dry,” “extra dry,” or “brut” on the label and avoid high-sugar versions such as “asti spumante” and “Moscato d’asti.”