Junk in the Trunk

Junk in the Trunk

Let’s start with the bottom line: There are no healthy choices when it comes to soda, soda pop, soft drinks – call it what you want. If it’s soda, it’s junk.

You probably heard about the recent study that found a link between soft drinks and increased heart disease risk. Well, that’s just the surface. Look a little closer and you’ll see the true risk is even worse. Worse than heart disease? Yes, even worse than heart disease, because heart disease is just part of the deal.

Return of the syndrome

Last month, researchers with the Framingham Heart Study reported on a four-year trial that followed soda-drinking habits of more than 6,000 healthy subjects. The average age of the cohort was about 53. Results showed that subjects who drank one or more sodas each day were nearly 45 percent more likely to develop these symptoms of metabolic syndrome: obesity, increased waist circumference, impaired fasting glucose, higher blood pressure, high triglycerides, and higher LDL cholesterol. When three or more of these symptoms are diagnosed in one patient, risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes rises significantly.

Researchers were most surprised to find that regular sodas and diet sodas had the same effect. Susan Neely, president of the American Beverage Association, posed this question to the Associated Press: “How can something with zero calories that’s 99 percent water with a little flavoring in it cause weight gain?”

Even though that’s a wild oversimplification of the contents of a diet soda, there are actually three likely reasons why diet soda drinkers might gain weight:
1) Zero calorie sodas are just as sweet as sugar-laden sodas, so they create a craving for more sweets
2) People who drink lots of liquids with a meal tend to eat more at the following meal
3) People who drink soda (either diet or regular) often have less healthy diets compared to non-soda drinkers

And there are two other factors that might play a role in increasing metabolic syndrome symptoms:
1) Studies with animals have shown that the substance used to create caramel color in colas and other soft drinks may cause inflammation and insulin resistance
2) In previous research, diet and regular soda intake has been linked to obesity in the young and high blood pressure in older subjects

Of course, there’s one critical word missing from this discussion of diet soda: aspartame (the controversial artificial sweetener). You can read about aspartame dangers in the e- Alert “Quotes of the Day” (2/21/06), at this link: http://www.hsionline.com/ealerts/ea200602/ea20060221.html

The diabetes factor

For HSI members, the link between type 2 diabetes and soda consumption will not come as a surprise.

In a 2004 e-Alert I told you about a Harvard study that examined nine years of dietary and medical data on more than 51,000 women who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study II. From this group, well over 700 cases of type 2 diabetes were diagnosed during the study period.

The Harvard team concluded that excess calories and high levels of rapidly absorbable sugars in non-diet soft drinks promoted weight gain and a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In fact, women who drank one or more soft drinks per day had an 80 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes compared to women who didn’t drink sodas.

Not surprisingly, a soft drink trade group disagreed with the Harvard results. Their spokesperson stated that “unhealthy lifestyles” are to blame for obesity and diabetes, not soft drink consumption.

But he’s neglecting one key fact: Daily soft drink consumption fits in perfectly with an unhealthy lifestyle.


“Soft Drink Consumption and Risk of Developing Cardiometabolic Risk Factors and the
Metabolic Syndrome in Middle-Aged Adults in the Community” Circulation, Published
online before print, 7/23/07, circ.ahajournals.org

“Daily Soft Drink Hikes Risk for Heart Disease, Study Finds” Kantele Franko, San
Francisco Chronicle, 7/23/07, sfgate.com

“Study: Diet Soda Linked to Heart Risks” The Associated Press, 7/23/07, ap.org