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Here’s why artificially sweetened drinks aren’t a great substitute for sugary beverages.

If you’re trying to consume less sugar these days, you may be replacing sugar-sweetened beverages with ones that are artificially sweetened. Sugar-free or no-sugar-added sodas and drinks are lower in calories and don’t contain the added sugar that their sugar-sweetened counterparts have, but the artificial sweeteners in these drinks may be just as bad for your health, and most notably, your heart.

recent study published in a journal of the American Heart Association highlighted one such association. The study, which examined data from over 200,000 people between 2006 and 2010, found that participants who drank at least two liters of artificially sweetened beverages per week had a 20 percent higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation (AFib) compared to participants who did not drink these beverages. Participants who drank a similar amount of sugar-sweetened beverages increased their AFib risk by 10 percent.

AFib is a condition in which a person has an irregular, rapid heartbeat, called an arrhythmia. This irregular heartbeat disrupts how the heart pumps blood and can result in serious heart-related complications, including blood clots, stroke and heart failure. AFib increases the risk of stroke fivefold and it is believed that about 15 to 20 percent of people who experience strokes have AFib, according to the American Heart Association. It’s also estimated that over 12 million Americans will have this condition by 2030.

Although this study does not provide conclusive evidence that artificially sweetened beverages directly cause an increased risk of AFib, this is not the first study to show an association between artificial sweeteners and heart risk. Another study published in the journal Nature Medicine found a link between the artificial sweetener erythritol and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

These studies and others haven’t been able to prove an exact cause-and-effect relationship between artificial sweeteners and heart health, but they do suggest that replacing sugar-sweetened beverages with artificially sweetened drinks may not be any better for your health. Instead, health experts recommend ditching sugary drinks for naturally unsweetened drinks, such as water, seltzer or tea. You can add a pop of flavor by adding slices of lemon, lime, cucumber or other fruits, vegetables and fresh herbs such as mint.

In addition to their potential effect on heart health, artificial sweeteners have been associated with other negative health effects. For example, even though many people use artificial sweeteners to cut calories so they can lose weight, it is common to experience weight gain when using these sweeteners. That’s because they may trigger cravings or spur your appetite, causing you to eat more. Other negative health effects linked to artificial sweeteners include headaches, digestive issues, brain tumors and bladder cancer.

Drinking less sugar-sweetened soda, juice and other beverages is one of the best ways to lower your overall sugar intake. But when you do so, the best thing you can do for your health is to not replace these drinks with artificially sweetened drinks. Instead, stick to water, seltzer or other naturally unsweetened drinks.


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Date Last Reviewed: April 17, 2024

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Jane Schwartz, RDN, CLT

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