Some studies have suggested that diet soda lovers could face higher risks of diabetes and heart disease, but one recent US study of several diet drink consumers found that overall eating habits may be what matters most in the end.
Researchers, whose findings were published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, used data on more than 4,000 people taking part in a long-term study of heart health and followed them for the next 20 years.
Of the study participants aged between 18 and 30 when it began in the mid-1980s, 827 subsequently developed metabolic syndrome — a cluster of risk factors for heart problems and diabetes including extra weight around the waist, unhealthy cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar.
The researchers, lead by Kiyah Duffey of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that young adults who drank diet beverages were more likely than those who did not to develop metabolic syndrome over the next 20 years, but the picture became more complex when Duffey’s team considered the role of diet as well.
“Our results suggest that both overall dietary pattern and diet beverage consumption are important, to various degrees, for different metabolic outcomes,” they wrote.
The lowest risk of metabolic syndrome was seen in people who drank no diet beverages and stuck to a “prudent” diet, one rich in foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish.
Meanwhile, people who also ate a prudent diet, but did drink diet beverages had a somewhat higher rate of metabolic syndrome — but not by much.
Over 20 years, 20 percent of those men and women developed metabolic syndrome compared to 18 percent of prudent eaters who did not regularly have diet drinks.
Participants with the highest rate of metabolic syndrome, at 32 percent, were those who drank diet soda and downed the typical “Western” diet including lots of meat, processed foods and sugar.