One of the largest and lengthiest studies on soda and health confirms it—drinking soda is not good for your heart. The study shows that it increases your risk of various conditions, but your heart might be getting the worst of it. Let’s look at drinking soda and your heart health.
The study from Harvard University (published in American Heart Association journal Circulation) studied 37,716 men and 80,647 women from 1986 to 2014. They periodically asked the subjects various health questions, including their soda intake.
The correlation between sugary drinks and various health conditions is strong, including increasing risk of breast and colon cancers. But cardiovascular health stood out.
A higher sugary drink intake was associated with an increased risk of death from heart disease. The study showed that people who drink more than 2 servings a day have a 31% higher risk of death due to poor heart health.
That is a percentage that is too high to ignore.
Soda and other sugary drinks contribute to cardiovascular disease and other complications that put your heart at risk, including atherosclerosis (hardened arteries), obesity, and diabetes. These are what causes heart problem later on.
You may be wondering if the study is skewed by other factors (wouldn’t people who drink less soda also have other healthy habits? What about those with other health conditions?). The study considered diet, health, and lifestyle factors. Even with other factors taken into account, it still stands that soda increases risk for cardiovascular disease.
It is also important to keep in mind that it isn’t just soda drinks that can affect your health. It’s also fruit drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, and coffee and tea with added sugars. The study also examined drinks with artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners performed better, but only by a little.
There is so much more you can do for your heart than switching to an artificial sweetener or even giving up soda altogether.
How to Protect your Heart
Cardiologist Aly Rahimtoola, M.D. points out that cutting out soda isn’t the only thing you should be doing for your heart. Eliminating sugary drinks alone will not be enough if you want all of the health benefits. But there are other things you can do to protect your heart.
Eat a heart-healthy diet
As you limit your soda intake, try to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Include healthy fats like omega-3s. Avoid foods that have excessive sugar, are high in fat, or are processed. Get as close to the garden as you can with your food choices.
Tobacco contributes a lot to the plaque buildup in your arteries. The buildup and nicotine increase your blood pressure, which puts more stress on your heart and blood vessel walls. These can lead to heart attack, heart failure, and stroke.
Manage your weight
Cutting out soda is a great way to start shedding any excess weight. Manage your portion size and limit foods that are high in trans or saturated fats or sugar. Avoid foods that are processed or deep-fried.
Lower bad cholesterol
Cholesterol, a lipoprotein, builds up in your arteries and can cause heart problems, even lead to heart attack and stroke. These are found in foods that have trans fat, saturated fat, and “hydrogenated vegetable oil.” These contribute to LDL or “bad” cholesterol. But you can also eat healthy fats such as fatty fish, olive oil, nuts, seeds, legumes, and avocados. These increase your HDL or “good” cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol.
Excessive soda intake can lead to diabetes, where your body has trouble breaking down sugars. But it’s also true that diabetes is a condition for some people, whether they eat healthy or not. Whatever the case, it is still bad for your heart. Talk with your doctor about your diabetes to see what you can do. Follow the other guidelines on this list to decrease your risk of heart disease.
Monitor your blood pressure
High blood pressure can be dangerous—putting more pressure on your heart and contributing to heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. But high blood pressure also has very few outward symptoms, so it’s critical you get it checked (either in your doctor’s office or at home). Lower your blood pressure by lowering your salt intake and following other guidelines on this list.
Get regular physical activity
Exercise can lower your blood pressure, help you maintain a healthy weight, and contribute to overall well-being. Get involved in activities you enjoy; don’t make it a chore! Getting 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 days a week can decrease your risk for heart health concerns later in life.
The Bottom Line
If you haven’t reconsidered your sugary beverage intake by now, you may want to. But even reducing your soda intake alone will only do so much — do your heart a favor by following the other guidelines. You can have better health now and later.