People with diabetes or those who are controlling their weight can choose artificially sweetened drinks to limit their calories. These drinks satisfy the sweet tooth without the high number of calories in sugary drinks. However, artificially sweetened drinks may not be a healthy alternative and can even damage your heart health, according to a new study from the American College of Cardiology.
What are artificially sweetened drinks?
Manufacturers can add natural or artificial sweeteners to juices, sodas, and sports drinks. Natural sweeteners are corn syrup with a high fructose content, sugar or fruit juice concentrates. The Mayo Clinic reported that natural sweeteners in low-calorie beverages are obtained from natural sources such as herbs and sugar themselves.
If artificial sweeteners are listed on the label, the product may contain benefit, aspartame, neotame, or other synthetic sugar substitutes that are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Some studies in the 1970s linked artificial sweeteners to cancer, particularly saccharin to bladder cancer in laboratory rats. However, the results weren’t solid enough to link all sugar substitutes to cancer. The National Cancer Institute and many other health agencies have classified these sweeteners as generally safe in limited amounts, even in pregnant women.
Current studies on artificially sweetened drinks
A recent study by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) found that artificially sweetened beverages are linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular or heart disease and are not a healthy alternative to sugary beverages. People who consume a lot of these beverages may be at higher risk for cardiovascular events.
The researchers examined data from over 100,000 people who were asked to produce three web-based 24-hour nutritional reports every six months. These showed how many sugary drinks and how many artificially sweetened drinks they consumed. The researchers defined artificially sweetened beverages as those that contained non-nutritious sweeteners, were low in calories, or were low in calories. Sugary beverages were products with a sugar content of 5% or more.
The team monitored participants for 10 years from 2009 to 2019 for signs of cardiovascular disease, including stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA), myocardial infarction (heart attack), or acute coronary syndrome.
The researchers found that 1,379 participants developed an initial incidence of cardiovascular disease. Those who consumed either or both sugary drinks and artificially sweetened drinks were at a higher risk of cardiovascular events than those who did not consume either type of drink.
While the results showed a link, the researchers recommended further large-scale research to establish a causal link between sugary and artificially sweetened drinks and heart disease.
“Our study suggests that artificially sweetened beverages may not be a healthy substitute for sugar beverages. These data provide additional arguments to fuel the current debate on the tax, labeling and regulation of sugary beverages and artificially sweetened beverages,” said author Eloi Chazelas, PhD student of the study, in an ACC press release.
Another study, published in the American Heart Association’s Journal, Stroke, in 2017, linked artificially sweetened beverages to stroke and dementia. More than 2,800 adults were screened for their regular consumption of artificially sweetened beverages. At the 10-year follow-up, there were 97 cases of stroke and 81 cases of dementia. However, the connection was not found in sugary drinks.
Popular drinks and sugar content
A table from Harvard University showed how much sugar and calories are in 12 ounces of some popular drinks:
- Cranberry juice cocktail: 200 calories and 12 teaspoons of sugar.
- Orange soda: 170 calories and 11 teaspoons of sugar.
- Orange juice: 170 calories and 10 teaspoons of sugar.
- Cola: 150 calories and 10 teaspoons of sugar.
- Sports drink: 90 calories and five teaspoons of sugar.
Two drinks, seltzer with a dash of juice and coffee with a sugar sachet, had the lowest values with 15 calories and a teaspoon of sugar each. The table found that the FDA has defined reduced calorie products with 110 calories and seven teaspoons of sugar. (One teaspoon of sugar equals 4.2 grams.) The food industry wants to lower this value further to 50 calories and three teaspoons.
If you want to eat or drink something sweet, you can only do it in moderation. If you have diabetes or are watching your weight, see your doctor about replacing sugary drinks with artificially sweetened drinks.
Ralph Chen is an enthusiast for medical topics and advanced technology. When he’s not writing, he spends a lot of time playing popular PC games.