Diet Coke supports heart health despite soda’s link to increased risk of heart disease

February is “American Heart Month,” and our e-mail inboxes are filling up with information about all sorts of cardiovascular-related events, including a celebrity-studded game of Capture the Flag at UCLA.

Apparently, actress Jennifer Love Hewitt, singer Natasha Bedingfield, actor Ryan Kwanten and others will serve as captains of CTF teams that will compete for money to fund heart research at UCLA and UC Davis. CTF games will also be played in Washington, D.C., Chicago and Boston, according to a news release.

The part that caught my eye was the source of the research money at stake in these games – none other than Diet Coke.

The soft drink struck me as an usual choice in light of a 2007 study that linked daily consumption of sodas -- including diet sodas -- to an increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a condition that doubles one’s risk of developing heart disease.


As my colleague Tom Maugh reported at the time, researchers sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute examined more than 2,400 residents of Framingham, Mass., and found that those who drank at least one can of soda per day were 48% more likely to have metabolic syndrome than their neighbors who abstained from soda.

The researchers also selected more than 1,600 people who didn’t have metabolic syndrome at the start of the study and followed them for more than four years. During that time, those who drank soda daily were 44% more likely to develop metabolic syndrome.

The study was published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Assn.

RELATED: Don’t count on diet soda to get you through this season of weight gain, researcher warns

Not surprisingly, the American Beverage Assn. derided the study. The group’s chief executive, Susan K. Neely, told Maugh that “the assertions defy the existing body of scientific evidence, as well as common sense. … It is scientifically implausible to suggest that diet soft drinks -- a beverage that is 99% water -- cause weight gain or elevated blood pressure.”

The researchers countered that soda drinkers (including diet soda drinkers) are known to consume diets higher in calories, saturated fats and trans fats. They speculated that soda drinkers might not feel as full and could eat more at the next meal, or that soda primed them to snack on sweet-tasting foods.

The following year, a study published in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience found that rats who ate the artificial sweetener saccharin gained more weight than rats who ate sugar, apparently because saccharin broke “the physiological connection between sweet tastes and calories, driving the rats to overeat,” according to this Los Angeles Times story.

Kinda reminds me of this Booster Shots post detailing some of the esteemed corporate sponsors of the American Dietetic Assn. – the Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo., Mars Inc. and the Hershey Center for Health & Nutrition.


RELATED: Chocolate is a health food. (This message brought to you by the makers of Hershey bars.)