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Diet Diva

Get advice on healthy eating, nutrition, and weight loss from expert dietitian Tara Gidus. 

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Soda and Heart Risk?

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You may have heard about a study released Monday about a link between soft drink consumption and increased risk of metabolic syndrome, which also increases risk of heart disease and diabetes. Many people are very upset about this study because it included diet sodas along with regular sodas in the increased risk category.

It is important to recognize that they study does not suggest that drinking sodas causes metabolic syndrome. In other words, there is an association, but not a cause and effect. This is very important to remember.

Metabolic syndrome is a clustering of risk factors (you must have 3 or more) including:
  • High fasting blood sugar (more than 100 mg/dl)
  • Large waist circumference (35 inches for women and 40 inches for men)
  • High triglycerides (more than 150 mg/dl)
  • High blood pressure (more than 135/85 mm Hg)
  • Low HDL cholesterol (less than 40 mg/dl for men and 50 for women)

Researchers are trying to figure out how diet soda may be related to increased risk of these factors. Diet soda has no calories and therefore should not be contributing to these risk factors.

The theories are as follows:

  1. The caramel color causes insulin resistance, leading to weight gain and impaired glucose tolerance
  2. Drinking something sweet (even fake sweet like diet soda) increases someone’s preference for sweets
  3. Poor health habits of people who drink sodas (even diet) like less exercise, more fat in diet, more calories consumed, and eating less fiber

I have a hard time believing that diet soda is causing people to gain weight. I still think it is total calories that people are eating that contribute to weight gain and that even if there is a slight effect on insulin from diet drinks (which is just a theory and has not been proven) that it can’t be great enough to cause obesity in and of itself. I believe that any association found in this study has got to be from theory number 3, which is that the people who drank soda had other poor habits that lead to metabolic syndrome.

I know plenty of people, myself included, that drink a diet soda or two a day and are not overweight or have any of the above risk factors. Regular sodas do contain calories and a fair amount of them (150 calories per 12 oz can). My advice is to continue to stay away from regular sodas due to sugar and calories, which could lead to weight gain. That being said, I also know plenty of people who drink a regular soda a day and are not overweight and have the above risk factors. But you are much more likely to gain weight from regular soda than diet soda.

Bottom line

As with everything, use moderation. If you enjoy diet sodas, I don’t think this one study is convincing enough to cut them out completely. Look at the rest of your diet and make sure you are not overconsuming total calories, sugar, and fat from other sources. And of course, exercise daily!

To read what the American Beverage Association has to say about the study, click here.

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About the Author


MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N

Tara Gidus is a nationally recognized expert and spokesperson on nutrition and fitness.

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