ATLANTA (April 20, 2012) — Despite some media reports to the contrary, as well as the press release from The Cleveland Clinic, the findings presented in the study “Soda consumption and the risk of stroke in men and women” fail to show that soda sweetened with low-calorie sweeteners leads to strokes.
This study, published online ahead of print in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, was observational, so it was designed to show an association, not prove cause and effect. Although the authors found a weak association between soda sweetened with low-calorie sweeteners and the risk of a stroke, the researchers emphasized: “Our finding of an association between low-calorie soda intake and stroke risk should be interpreted with caution, because we previously did not find an association between low-calorie beverages and weight gain, diabetes, or CAD [coronary artery disease], and there is not a clear biologic mechanism between low-calorie soda consumption and incident stroke.”
A study released last month in Circulation by two of the same Harvard researchers also did not find a link between beverages sweetened with low-calorie sweeteners and coronary heart disease. In that study, the researchers again stated, “Our results highlight the need for cautious interpretation of studies reporting on positive associations between diet drinks and cardiometabolic and cardiovascular outcomes.”
These studies agree with a recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that found that people who consumed diet beverages were also more likely to be consuming a healthier diet. Lead researcher, Kiyah Duffey and her colleagues used data on more than 4,000 Americans taking part in a long-term study of heart health.
The study also showed that total dietary pattern, not an individual food or beverage, is what has an impact on health. A diet high in fruit, fish, and whole grains like one of the ones evaluated in the UNC study has been shown to lower the risk of cardiometabolic outcomes.
In an interview with Reuters Ms. Duffey said “I really think it’s overall diet that’s important.” If you want to cut calories, replacing sugary drinks with sugar-free versions will do that, she noted. “But if the goal is a broader impact on your health, you need to consider the whole diet.”
Low-calorie sweeteners are some of the most thoroughly studied food ingredients in the food supply. The safety of low-calorie sweeteners has been reaffirmed time and again by leading health and regulatory groups worldwide.