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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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Are Potatoes Good for You – Julia Calderone

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They’ve been maligned in nutrition circles for decades, with links to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. But they’re also highly satisfying and provide many essential nutrients.

So are potatoes good for you or not?

“Potatoes have gotten a bad rap because of the way they’ve been eaten and processed in the modern food system,” says Charles Mueller, Ph.D., a clinical associate professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at New York University.

Undoctored potatoes are healthy, says Mueller: They supply a good mix of nutrients. It’s when people deep-fry them in oil or smother them in butter, sour cream, or salt that spuds turn into nutritional duds.

Tuber Nutrition

A medium white baked potato (about 6 ounces) with skin has 159 calories, 36 grams of carbs, and nearly 4 grams of fiber. Potatoes also are packed with a healthy mixture of vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, potassium, and vitamins B6 and C. A medium potato, for example, supplies about 15 percent of your daily need for magnesium; and about 20 percent of your daily potassium need.

“Most people don’t get enough potassium their diet,” says Ellen Klosz, a Consumer Reports nutritionist. “It’s very important for helping to control blood pressure.”

And few Americans get the daily recommended amount of fiber, which has a slew of health benefits, from helping curb cholesterol, protect against diabetes, control weight, and even lower the risk of colorectal cancer. Dietary recommendations say most adults need around 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day. If you eat a medium potato with skin, you’ll get about 4 grams. If you eat one without it, you’ll only get about 3 grams. “It’s always good to eat potatoes with the skin,” says Mueller, “because you pick up some fiber.”

Still, many diet experts advise going easy on potatoes because of their high glycemic index rating. The carbohydrates in a food with a high GI are digested quickly, leading to a rapid spike and then dip in blood sugar and insulin levels. These effects can cause people to overeat and may raise the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

But Mueller says that you can greatly minimize the boost in blood sugar from potatoes if you eat them as part of a healthy meal that includes protein.

Another way to minimize the GI effect of potatoes is to cool them after cooking and either eat them cold (as in a potato salad) or reheat them. This alters the chemical structure of the potato’s carbohydrates, and forms resistant starch, a type of fermentable fiber that may lower blood sugar levels after a meal and have other health benefits.

Additionally, Klosz says, when you compare potatoes with other some other high GI staples, such as white rice, they’re actually much lower in calories and carbs, and supply more fiber.

For most people, having potatoes a couple of times a week can be part of a healthy diet, says Mueller. But only if you watch your serving size and what you put on them.

“Potatoes are among the most popular vegetables in the American diet,” Klosz says. “But most are consumed in their processed form, such as fries and chips. Only 26 percent of the potatoes we eat are fresh or unprocessed.” And even when eaten fresh, dousing them in butter or cream might negate their health benefits.

That might at least partially explain the findings of some observational studies, such as those from Harvard researchers, which found that eating potatoes frequently may increase the risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and weight gain.

In one of the studies, people who ate potatoes two to four times per week had a modest increase in type 2 diabetes risk—7 percent—compared with those who ate them less than once a week. Those who had 7 servings a week, however, had a 33 percent increased risk. While all forms of potatoes—baked, boiled, fried, and mashed—were linked to the disease, French fries were most problematic.

That was also the case in the other Harvard studies. For instance, people who ate four or more servings of baked, boiled, or mashed potatoes had an 11 percent increased risk of high blood pressure compared to those who ate them less than once a month. For French fries, the risk was 17 percent higher.

People often make the mistake of counting potatoes as a vegetable in their meals. “While it is a tuber and it’s in the vegetable family,” says Mueller, “it is a starch, and should be considered equivalent to eating pasta, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, or brown rice.” The Harvard studies suggest that if you replace potatoes with a nonstarchy vegetable or a whole grain in your meals, it helps protect against chronic health problems.

A Range of Colors

In addition to white potatoes, you can find yellow, purple, and red-fleshed varieties. The colors come from compounds in the plants called phytochemicals such as anthocyanins, carotenoids, and flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties and may protect against cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases. Red- and purple-fleshed potatoes have nearly twice the flavonoids as white ones.

What about sweet potatoes? Technically, they’re not really potatoes—they aren’t part of the same plant family—and they may be a little healthier. A medium sweet potato is just slightly lower in calories and carbs (147 calories; 35 grams of carbs) than a same-sized white version, but has about one more gram of fiber. And it provides enough carotenoids to supply more than five times your daily recommended dose of vitamin A. Purple sweet potatoes offer the highest levels of anthocyanins, a type of flavonoid linked to heart and liver benefits, compared with white, yellow, and orange-fleshed types.

How to Prepare Potatoes Healthfully

It’s pretty simple: Go easy on the potato toppings and add-ins. Just one pat of butter and two tablespoons of sour cream adds about 100 calories and 9 grams of fat. “When you add a lot of cream and butter and salt,” says Mueller, “you can increase the caloric value of them and you’re more likely to overeat.” Why? Because they taste good.

The same goes for sweet potatoes. Adding marshmallows, butter, and brown sugar ups the fat and sugar load significantly. There are 14 grams of sugars, and 9 grams of fat in a half-cup of sweet potato casserole vs. about 7 grams of sugars and no fat in a medium sweet potato. Avoid canned varieties packed in heavy syrup.

Fortunately, potatoes—whether sweet or regular—don’t need much to make them tasty. Cut them into cubes and roast with a little rosemary, olive oil, and salt and pepper; or boil or microwave them whole. When eating them baked or mashed, keep the condiments to a minimum.

 

 

 

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