The jury is still out, but a new long-term study of heart health suggests that diet beverage consumption, along with overall diet, may contribute to your risk of developing metabolic syndrome. The list of health problems that metabolic syndrome can cause is long and scary. It doubles your risk of heart attack and stroke, and contributes to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and even some forms of cancer.
The latest research, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, followed the dietary patterns of 4,000 Americans between the ages of 18 and 30 for more than 20 years. The researchers discovered that those who drank diet soda were more likely than those who didn't to develop metabolic syndrome.
There was one caveat: A healthy diet may help mitigate some of the effects of diet soda. Over 20 years, 20% of the men and women who followed a "prudent" diet (one rich with fruit, vegetables, whole grains, milk, nuts, and seeds) and drank diet soda developed metabolic syndrome, compared with 18% of those who followed the same eating style but didn't sip diet soft drinks. Most at risk were those adhering to a "Western" diet of fast food, meat, pizza, and snacks, all washed down with diet soda. By the end of the study, 32% of those folks had developed metabolic syndrome.
If you love a soda now and then, do a quick whole-health inventory before cracking one open. Make sure you're not doing anything else that could potentially boost your blood pressure, blood sugar, waist size, triglycerides, or cholesterol (the cluster of factors that make up metabolic syndrome). If your diet is healthy (100% whole grains; healthy fats from olive oil, canola oil, and nuts; low-fat or nonfat dairy; lots of fish; loads of fruit and veggies; and as little red meat, saturated fat, and refined sugar as possible. An occasional diet soft drink won't do much to raise your risk of metabolic syndrome.
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For an everyday low-cal pick-me-up, consider tea or coffee. Hot or iced, both are overflowing with heart-healthy antioxidants. (Here's how coffee helps reduce your diabetes risk.)
Of course, for the ultimate in thirst quenching, nothing beats water.