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Water a better choice than diet, low-calorie drinks for general health

Researchers at the American Heart Association say that, despite clear links, previous research suggests the effects of diet drinks on a range of health conditions is not positive.

By Allen Cone
Water a better choice than diet, low-calorie drinks for general health
The American Heart Association prefers adults and child to drink water instead of diet beverages. Photo by Nica444/Pixabay

July 30 (UPI) -- In a new advisory, experts are recommending against consumption of diet drinks, particularly by children, because of their potentially negative health effects.

In a science advisory published Monday in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, a group of leading nutritionists, doctors and researchers urge people to replace sugary and diet drinks with plain, carbonated or unsweetened flavored water.

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In 2016, the AHA issued its first scientific statement that children and teens should consume no more than 8 ounces of sugary beverages a week.

"There's not a huge body of literature, either observational or clinical trials," the writing group's chair, Rachel K. Johnson, a professor emeritus of nutrition at the University of Vermont, said in a press release. "Based on the evidence available at this time, this is the best advice we have."

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For two years, the committee checked several dozens studies and concluded there was not conclusive scientific thought about the health effects of diet drinks. The studies included the effects of diet beverages on blood pressure, lipids, insulin resistance and diabetes mellitus, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and obesity.

Nutrition researcher Christopher Gardner, who wasn't involved in the study, said it's clear these drinks are not healthy.

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"Artificial soda, there's nothing good about it," said Gardner, who is director of Nutrition Studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. "There's nothing health-promoting about it. The only health-related role it has is as a transition beverage, replacing or displacing sugar-sweetened beverages."

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"One question we discussed is whether for children who are obese and who drink regular soda on a regular basis, is it OK for them to drink diet soda instead?" Hu said. "The consensus is that for short-term weight control, it's OK. Certainly, it's not the best alternative ... because we all know there are more healthy alternatives, such as water, low-fat and fat-free milk."

Researchers were more concerned about the long-term effects of low-calorie drinks because there is "virtually no data" on it.

"One question we discussed is whether for children who are obese and who drink regular soda on a regular basis, is it OK for them to drink diet soda instead?" said study member Dr. Frank Hu, chairman of the nutrition department at Harvard University. "The consensus is that for short-term weight control, it's OK. Certainly, it's not the best alternative ... because we all know there are more healthy alternatives, such as water, low-fat and fat-free milk."

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The authors however said diabetic children who eat a balanced diet and closely monitor blood sugar may keep their levels in check by substituting low-calorie drinks for sugary ones when needed.

The researchers noted that many people might use diet drinks to wean off sugar-loaded drinks.

"This approach may be particularly helpful for individuals who are habituated to a sweet-tasting beverage and for whom water, at least initially, is not a desirable option," the report said.

The authors said they were encouraged by adults and young people already drinking less of sugary and diet drinks.

In 2006, adults drank about 5.6 ounces of low-calorie drinks a day, according to the National Health and Nutrition on Examination Survey. By 2014, that fell to 3.8 ounces a day. And among kids and teens, it declined about an ounce a day.

With sugar-laden drinks, adults in 2000 drank about 16.2 ounces a day and it declined to 8.4 ounces a day by 2014. Kids reported they drank 17.9 ounces each day in 2000 and 8.1 ounces in 2014.

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