Don't drop the Diet Coke just yet

Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

Every so often a new study will be published that reminds me of my favorite Onion headline of all time: “Man Who Drinks 5 Diet Cokes Per Day Hoping Doctors Working On Cure For Whatever He's Getting.”

I love this story for two reasons: It's hilarious, and it's relatable.

I don't drink anywhere near five Diet Cokes per day but I do enjoy one a few times a week, without thinking too much about any negative effects it might bring. I like the flavor, I like that it helps with my headaches, and I like that it doesn't leave my mouth with the gross sugary feeling that normal Coke does.

And I especially appreciate the pick-me-up the caffeine brings to help boost me over the 3 p.m. slump, much as it did Friday afternoon when this study came across my radar.

Researchers with the Boston University School of Medicine analyzed data from a long-term, ongoing study of adults in Framingham, MA. Once pre-existing conditions and demographic data was stripped from the findings, the team was left with information that indicate there may be a link between daily consumption of diet soda and developing stroke and dementia.

Upon reading this you might think a natural reaction would be to stop drinking the diet soda that was in my hand, and go dump it down the drain. But I didn't — I finished the soda. And then I had another one on Saturday.

Why? This recent study had another set of results that, while slightly less dramatic, present sort of a no-win situation for anyone who enjoys soft drinks. Sugary beverages like non-diet soda and fruit juice also were found to be linked to poorer memory, and smaller overall brain volumes in adults. And even those findings aren't a declaration that you should go empty out your fridge of anything that isn't water or black coffee; the researchers themselves reported that “it is premature to say their observations represent cause and effect.”

Diet food and beverage associations, as expected, quickly jumped to point out that the study was observational and didn't offer enough evidence to discount the “hundreds of scientific studies” that have proven low-calorie sweeteners to be perfectly safe.

As someone who likes to eat relatively healthy, I spend a lot of time reading articles and message boards trying to figure out which foods are “good.” But it's not that simple. For every study saying something is good for you, there's another saying it's the worst thing you could possibly put into your body.

For example, a quick Google search for “Are eggs healthy?” brings up headlines that span an entire spectrum of good and bad, from “6 Reasons Why Eggs Are The Healthiest Food on The Planet” to “Eggs Are Worse Than Cigarettes?”

So what should we do, drastically change our diets every time a new study comes out that might show a link between a food we enjoy and a not-so-enjoyable health conditions? That's not sustainable.

Instead, do as the experts interviewed about this diet soda study recommend: Talk with your doctor about what works best for your health goals and what your body responds best to, with a few exceptions. You know you should avoid smoking, eat less fried food, exercise more and drink a lot of water. Practice moderation, and keep an eye out for some more concrete evidence or additional studies before cutting anything out entirely.

And in the meantime keep your fingers crossed that if something you enjoy eating or drinking does turn out to be that bad for you, science will already be working on a cure.

Follow Emily @emmongan

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.

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