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Death by Diet Soda Artificially Sweetened Beverages To Premature Death

There was a collective gasp among Coke Zero and Diet Pepsi drinkers this week after media reports highlighted a new study that found prodigious consumers of artificially sweetened drinks were 26 percent more likely to die prematurely than those who rarely drank sugar-free beverages.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, followed 450,000 Europeans over 16 years and tracked mortality among soft-drink consumers of all persuasions — both those with a fondness for sugary beverages and those who favored sugar-free drinks.

Given the well-documented health effects of consuming too much sugar, it was little surprise the authors found that people who drank two or more glasses of sugar-sweetened beverages a day were eight percent more likely to die young compared to those who consumed less than one glass a month.

But what grabbed headlines, and prompted widespread angst, was the suggestion that drinking Diet Coke could be even more deadly than drinking Coca-Cola Classic.

“Putting our results in context with other published studies, it would probably be prudent to limit consumption of all soft drinks and replace them with healthier alternatives like water,” said Amy Mullee, a nutritionist at University College Dublin and one of 50 researchers who worked on the study, one of the largest of its kind to date.

The study is not a one-off. Over the past year, other research in the United States has found a correlation between artificially sweetened beverages and premature death.

The problem, experts say, is that these and other studies have been unable to resolve a key question: Does consuming drinks sweetened with aspartame or saccharin harm your health? Or could it be that people who drink lots of Diet Snapple or Sprite Zero lead a more unhealthy lifestyle to begin with?

A number of nutritionists, epidemiologists and behavioral scientists think the latter may be true. (It’s a theory that will be instantly recognizable to anyone who has guiltily ordered a Diet Coke to accompany their Double Whopper with cheese.)

“It could be that diet soda drinkers eat a lot of bacon or perhaps it’s because there are people who rationalize their unhealthy lifestyle by saying, ‘Now that I’ve had a diet soda, I can have those French fries,’” said Vasanti S. Malik, a researcher at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the lead author of a study in April that found that the link between artificial sweeteners and increased mortality in women was largely inconclusive. “This is a huge study, with a half million people in 10 countries, but I don’t think it adds to what we already know.”

The authors of the JAMA paper tried to account for these risk factors by removing study participants who were smokers or obese, and they tried to improve its accuracy through statistical modeling.

But Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital, said these so-called observational studies cannot really determine cause and effect. “Maybe artificial sweeteners aren’t increasing mortality,” he said. “Maybe it’s just that people with an increased risk of mortality, like those with overweight or obesity, are choosing to drink diet soda but, in the end, this doesn’t solve their weight problem and they die prematurely.”

Still, scientists say the alternative to observational studies — a clinical trial that randomly assigns participants to a sugary drinks group or a diet soda group — isn’t feasible.

“Clinical trials are considered the gold standard in science, but imagine asking thousands of people to stick to such a regimen for decades,” said Dr. Malik of Harvard. “Many people would drop out, and it would also be prohibitively expensive.”

Concerns about artificial sweeteners have been around since the 1970s, when studies found that large quantities of saccharin caused cancer in lab rats. The Food and Drug Administration issued a temporary ban on the sweetener, and Congress ordered up additional studies and a warning label, but subsequent research found the chemical to be safe for human consumption. More recently-created chemical sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose have also been extensively studied, with little evidence that they negatively impact human health, according to the F.D.A.

Some studies have even found a correlation between artificial sweeteners and weight loss, but others have suggested they may increase cravings for sugary foods.

“There’s no evidence they are harmful to people with a healthy diet who are trying to live a healthy lifestyle,” said Dr. Barry M. Popkin, a nutritionist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He and others remain concerned that giving diet beverages to young children might encourage a sweet tooth.

Still, many scientists say more research is needed to determine the long-term effects of consuming artificial sweeteners. Although Dr. Mullee, one of the authors of the study, cautioned against drawing stark conclusions from their data, she said the deleterious effects of artificial sweeteners can’t be ruled out, noting studies that suggest a possible link between aspartame and elevated levels of blood glucose and insulin in humans. “Right now the biological mechanisms are unclear but we’re hoping our research will spark further exploration,” she said.

For consumers, the mixed messaging can be confusing. Dr. Jim Krieger, the founding executive director of Healthy Food America, an advocacy group that presses municipalities to enact soda taxes and increase consumer access to fruits and vegetables, said the new study and others like it raise more questions than they answer.

“Gosh, at this point, you probably want to go with water, tea or unsweetened coffee and not take a chance on beverages we don’t know much about,” he said. “Certainly, you don’t want to drink sugary beverages because we know that these aren’t good for you.”

By

Andrew Jacobs is a reporter with the Health and Science Desk, based in New York. He previously reported from Beijing and Brazil and had stints as a Metro reporter, Styles writer and National correspondent, covering the American South.

Source: Death by Diet Soda? – The New York Times

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Seven Ways to Maintain Strong Bones | Physical and Mental Health – Exercise, Fitness and Activity

Until about the age of 30, our bodies are still building bone and the teenage years are the crucial period in this process – osteoporosis has been called “a pediatric disease with geriatric consequences”. Girls build as much bone in the two years after their first period as they lose in the last four decades of their lives.Skeletal strength is built in our teenage years – but high-calcium foods, vitamin D and exercise help at any age

A healthy, balanced diet should usually contain everything the body needs for strong bones, primarily calcium and vitamin D. NHS guidelines advise a daily calcium intake of about 700mg, although in the US and elsewhere the target is 1,000mg or higher. Read more…

Source: Seven ways to maintain strong bones | Physical and Mental Health – Exercise, Fitness and Activity

 

 

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Seriously, Juice Is Not Healthy – Erika R. Cheng

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Obesity affects 40 percent of adults and 19 percent of children in the United States and accounts for more than $168 billion in health care spending each year. Sugary beverages are thought to be one of the major drivers of the obesity epidemic. These drinks (think soda and sports drinks) are the largest single source of added sugars for Americans and contribute, on average, 145 added calories a day to our diets. For these reasons, reducing sugary beverage consumption has been a significant focus of public health intervention. Most efforts have focused on sodas.

But not juice. Juice, for some reason, gets a pass. It’s not clear why.

Americans drink a lot of juice. The average adult drinks 6.6 gallons per year. More than half of preschool-age children (ages 2 to 5) drink juice regularly, a proportion that, unlike for sodas, has not budged in recent decades. These children consume on average 10 ounces per day, more than twice the amount recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Parents tend to associate juice with healthfulness, are unaware of its relationship to weight gain and are reluctant to restrict it in their child’s diet. After all, 100 percent fruit juice — sold in handy individual servings — has been marketed as a natural source of vitamins and calcium. Department of Agriculture guidelines state that up to half of fruit servings can be provided in the form of 100 percent juice and recommend drinking fortified orange juice for the vitamin D. Some brands of juice are even marketed to infants.

Government programs designed to provide healthy food for children, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, offer juice for kids. Researchers have found that children in the program are more likely to exceed the recommended daily fruit juice limit than those who are similarly poor but not enrolled.

Despite all the marketing and government support, fruit juices contain limited nutrients and tons of sugar. In fact, one 12-ounce glass of orange juice contains 10 teaspoons of sugar, which is roughly what’s in a can of Coke.

Drinking fruit juice is not the same as eating whole fruit. While eating certain fruits like apples and grapes is associated with a reduced risk of diabetes, drinking fruit juice is associated with the opposite. Juices contain more concentrated sugar and calories. They also have less fiber, which makes you feel full. Because juice can be consumed quickly, it is more likely than whole fruit to contribute to excess carbohydrate intake.

For example, research has found that adults who drank apple juice before a meal felt hungrier and ate more calories than those who started with an apple instead. Children who drink juice instead of eating fruit may similarly feel less full and may be more likely to snack throughout the day.

Juice may also be a “gateway beverage” — 1-year-olds who drank more juice also drank more sugary beverages, including more soda, in their school-age years. Children’s excessive consumption of juice has been linked to an increased risk of weight gain, shorter stature and cavities. Even in the absence of weight gain, sugar consumption worsens blood pressure and increases cholesterol.

It’s tempting to minimize the negative contributions of juice to our diets because it’s “natural” or because it contains “vitamins.” Studies that support this view exist, but many are biased and have been questioned. And we doubt you’d take a multivitamin if it contained 10 teaspoons of sugar.

There is no evidence that juice improves health. It should be treated like other sugary beverages, which are fine to have periodically if you want them, but not because you need them. Parents should instead serve water and focus on trying to increase children’s intake of whole fruit. Juice should no longer be served regularly in day care centers and schools.

Public health efforts should challenge government guidelines that equate fruit juice with whole fruit, because these guidelines most likely fuel the false perception that drinking fruit juice is good for health. It’s much easier to prevent obesity than it is to reverse it. We need to teach kids how to eat healthier when they’re young so that they develop good habits to carry on for the rest of their lives. In the past decade or so, we have succeeded in recognizing the harms of sugary beverages like soda. We can’t keep pretending that juice is different.

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