17-Year Study Reveals The Alarming Health Risks From Drinking Diet Soda

We’ve long known regular soda is bad for us. A whole arsenal of scientific studies give us reasons to kick the can. The sugary beverage is linked to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes and obesity. (And, ahem, now might be a good time to mention a 20-ounce bottle of Coke is loaded with even more sugar than that trendy unicorn Frappuccino that’s been prancing around Instagram and Facebook.)

But diet soda? Well, new research is revealing those sugar-free alternatives are not so innocent either.

Diet Sodas Linked To Stroke, Dementia

A new study published in the American Health Association Stroke Journal report found drinking at least one artificially-sweetened beverage a day is associated with almost three times the risk of developing stroke or dementia compared to those who drank the beverages less than once a week. Researchers reviewed data from more than 4,200 people over the course of 17 years. And while researchers found a clear correlation between daily diet soda consumption and the risk of stroke or dementia, the press release states that the observational study was not intended or designed to prove cause and effect.

If you think ditching diet for regular soda is the solution—think again, the study authors warn.

“Although we did not find an association between stroke or dementia and the consumption of sugary drinks, this certainly does not mean they are a healthy option,” said Matthew Pase, a senior fellow in the department of neurology at Boston University School of Medicine and Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, in a news release. “We recommend that people drink water on a regular basis instead of sugary or artificially sweetened beverages.”

Ice cola with splashing CO bubbles.

Time to Break Up With Diet Soda?

While the research from the American Heart Association clearly states the “current science suggests need for more research,” this isn’t the first study to implicate diet soda in health problems. For example, a 2015 study blames diet soda for belly fat, especially in older adults and a study in 2013 linked diet drinks to depression.

Ready to break up with soda and diet soda for good? Water is the best way to go, as the scientists point out. But here are some other healthy alternatives depending on what you love about soda.

1. Your vice: The fruity flavors

The substitute: Try fruit-infused water. Christy Brissette, owner of 80Twenty Nutrition, has a few easy recipes on her blog.

2. Your vice: The bubbles

The substitute: Natural sparkling mineral waters like Perrier or San Pellegrino. They don’t have any sodium added. Keri Gans, R.D., gives a good explainer of flavored and carbonated waters in this column in Shape.

fresh, sparkling mineral water in a glass

3. Your vice: The caffeine.

The substitute: Green tea. Not only does it have caffeine (though not as much as coffee or black tea), it also has many health benefits, like reducing blood pressure.