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Apr 17, 2019

Both Sugary and Artificially Sweetened Beverages Linked to Increased Mortality Risk

Experts recommend limiting sugary beverages and consuming diet drinks in moderation, based on a long-term study of more than 118,000 adults.

One of the largest studies of its kind to explore the impact of beverage consumption on lifespan leaves experts recommending that we limit sugary beverages and enjoy diet drinks in moderation. These findings were published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, and add to the debate about the negative health effects of these types of drinks.

Using data from two large U.S. studies, this analysis looked at the impact of decades of beverage consumption on mortality risk. The goal was to see whether drinking sugary and artificially sweetened beverages takes years off our lives, as some studies suggest.

Previous research has linked both diet drinks and sugary drinks like soda to conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and even death. The topic is highly debated, as the link between beverage consumption and health is difficult to measure over time and could be affected by many other lifestyle factors.

According to the latest findings, however, we have good reason to be concerned about the types of beverages we’re consuming.

Based on data from the Health Professional’s Follow-up Study and Nurses’ Health Study, drinking two or more sugar-sweetened beverages a day increases risk of death by 21% compared to having less than one sugary drink a month. Individuals who drank the same amount of diet drinks a day also had 4% greater risk of death and 13% greater risk of heart-related death than those with the lowest diet drink consumption.

Together, these studies included 37,716 men and 80,647 women who were followed from the 1980s through 2014. Participants were free from chronic diseases at the start of the study and nearly 36,500 died over the three-decade period.

When taking a deeper look at mortality risk, researchers note that individuals consuming the highest levels of sugary beverages (two or more a day) had 31% greater risk of heart-related death and 16% higher cancer mortality than those with the lowest consumption. Diet drinks, however, only increased risk of death in women and were not associated with cancer mortality in either study group.

Authors also note that for sugar-sweetened beverages, even having 1–4 drinks a month was associated with a heightened mortality risk. The more sugary drinks participants consumed, the greater their risk of death.

In this study, sugary beverages were defined as sodas, fruit punches, lemonade or other drinks sweetened with sugar. Real fruit juices were not included.

Artificially-sweetened beverages included any type of low-calorie or diet beverage that contains artificial sweeteners like sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (Equal) and saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low).

Of course, it’s important to note that this was not a clinical trial and can’t prove cause and effect. However, analysis did adjust for factors like weight, diet, and overall health. Strengths of the study include its large size and collection of data over a long period of time.

Authors state that additional research is needed to confirm the link between sugary and diet drink consumption on mortality risk, especially in women. In the meantime, they encourage limiting intake of sugary beverages as much as possible and consuming diet drinks in moderation to increase longevity.

Water is always the best beverage choice, according to experts, as it has virtually no risks and is vital to good health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is a heart-healthy diet?

  • A heart-healthy diet is full of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains and includes low-fat dairy, fish and nuts as part of a balanced diet. It’s important to limit intake of added sugars, salt (sodium) and bad fats (saturated and trans fats).

  • How can I cut out excess sugar in my diet?

  • Many studies (including earlier NHANES reports) show that sugary soft drinks contribute more calories to the U.S. diet than any other single food or beverage. One 12-oz can of soda contains about 40 to 50 grams of sugar, depending on the type of soda. That’s equivalent to 10 to 12 teaspoons of sugar. Guzzle a 32-oz jumbo drink from a fast-food restaurant or convenience store, and you’ll take in 23 teaspoons of sugar. But sodas aren’t the only problem. Lots of hidden sugars find their way into processed foods in the form of high-fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners.

Featured Video

The average American today consumes three pounds of sugar a week. In the 1800s, the average American consumed two pounds of sugar a year!

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