Is Utah’s soda obsession behind our levels of prediabetes?

Mar 27, 2024, 12:00 PM

Over 30% of people in Utah are considred prediabetic because of the amount of soda they drink....

Bottles of Diet Coke sit on a shelf in a market in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2018. The World Health Organization announced Thursday, July 13, 2023 that aspartame, a sweetener found in the drink, may cause cancer (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

(Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

SALT LAKE CITY — Do you drink soda? Regular or diet? The choices you make here could have a profound impact on your health. And here in Utah, our soda habits might be making us particularly at risk for prediabetes and diabetes.

“Thiry-point-1 percent of Utah has prediabetes, and 8% of the adult population in Utah has diabetes,” explained Sara Faucett, registered dietician nutritionist with Intermountain Health.

How big of a role does Utah soda-drinking play?

“For some of my clients, that is the only reason they are prediabetic because they’re drinking fully sugared soda,” Faucett said. “I had a client a couple of weeks ago who was consuming over 1,100 calories from sugar from soda alone in a day. That’s three 32-ounce drinks.”

A regular can of soda has 12 ounces. The large at McDonald’s is 30 ounces. So, her Utah soda-drinking client drinks three McDonald’s-sized large sodas every day.

“That’s more common than you would expect,” Faucett said.

Soda’s effect on your heart

Earlier this month, the American Heart Association came out with a report that looked at the effect on your heart from drinking both regular and diet sodas. The data shows that if you drink more than two liters a week of diet soda, you have a 20% increased risk of atrial fibrillation or AFIB. Some context, two liters is 67 ounces — which works out to two large sodas at the drive-thru or six cans a week.

Related: Can Utahns quit their Diet Coke? A local restaurant owner weighs in

The study also showed that drinking less than one liter of pure fruit juice a week, like orange or vegetable juice, reduces your risk of AFIB by 8%.

“There are two choices here,” Faucett explained. “Do I want to drink it at all, or do I want to limit what I am drinking?”

Different types of artificial sweeteners

Is one type of artificial sweetener better than another? Should I use Stevia or Splenda or Equal or something else? Is the aspartame in Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi worse for me than what’s in other diet colas?

“Each has their place,” Faucett answered. “It just depends on how much you’re drinking. We use them in the food industry for many things, including drinks and beverages. We can mix and match them.”

The taste of artificial sweeteners is so good now, she said, it’s allowing the food industry to reduce the amount of high fructose corn syrup, which poses its own health concerns. But amount is the key.

“I do think they take a toll on the body over time, but how much and how often are we consuming them?” Faucett said. “The study also looked at regular soda, and it increased your risk for AFIB by 10%. That’s half the diet beverage group, but it still increased your risk.”

Two liters a week

Sixty-seven ounces a week of soda, or less than one can a day, is not that much for an American, according to Faucett.

“I know it sounds like a lot,” she said. “When I ask someone to drink 67 ounces of water, they’re dying, but if I ask them to drink 44 ounces of soda, no one bats an eye.”

She did emphasize that there is a place for diet drinks.

“For my diabetics, this is their better option,” Faucett explained. “We’re trying to preserve their blood sugar because that’s hard on the heart, too.”

The study showed that those who consume diet sodas tend to be younger females with a higher body mass index and a higher prevalence for prediabetes. Younger males tend to choose fully sugared drinks. They also had a higher BMI and a higher prevalence for heart disease.

“Diet soda has been shown to not necessarily help with weight loss consistently, like the diet industry would like you to believe,” Faucett added. “Drink choices are really personal. So, we want to provide them with good information where they can still make that choice based on all these factors.”

Key takeaway about Utah and soda-drinking

After learning about the risks of diabetes and AFIB from both regular and diet soda, what should we be drinking?

“Water!” Faucett said. “When we’re looking at healthy hearts, the best takeaway is — water is important. Maybe we can make water popular again.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.


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Is Utah’s soda obsession behind our levels of prediabetes?