We all know that too much sugar in our diet is bad for our health, and that includes sugary soft drinks. But many reach for the artificially sweetened ‘diet’ drinks, thinking that it has to be a better choice than sugary soft drinks.

It has now been proven that these ‘diet’ drinks are equally bad for our health, if not worse. This is the latest data from the Framingham Heart study in Massachusetts.

“We advise that people don’t drink sugary beverages because we know they are associated with a whole range of adverse health outcomes such as obesity, diabetes,” said Matthew Pase, a visiting postdoctoral fellow at Boston University School of Medicine and an investigator at the Framingham Heart Study. Pase, who authored the study, said the outcomes of consuming diet drinks with artificial sweeteners can be just as bad.

“We found that those people who were consuming diet soda on a daily basis were three times as likely to develop both stroke and dementia within the next 10 years as compared to those who did not drink diet soda,” said Pase. About 4,000 Framingham residents aged 30 or older were monitored for this study.

It was found that those who drank sugary drinks showed faster brain ageing and poorer memory function. The conclusion to this study was that “artificially sweetened soft drink consumption was associated with a high risk of stroke and dementia.” The artificial sweeteners used in the study were saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose.

Aspartame is considered by some to be the most dangerous substance on the market that is added to foods and drinks. It accounts for more than 75 per cent of the adverse reactions reported to the US FDA, yet the additive is still widely permitted and no warning labelling is required.

The range of symptoms and ailments attributed to aspartame in a 1994 Department of Health & Human Services Report  include headaches, migraines, memory loss, dizziness, seizures, numbness, rashes, depression, fatigue, irritability, tachycardia, insomnia, vision problems, hearing loss, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, slurred speech, tinnitus, vertigo and joint pain.

Aspartame is an excitotoxin, and excessive exposure can cause damage to your brain cells. It is important to be aware when food shopping that you look at the ingredients list on the packaged foods and drinks. Look out for (950) or (951) – these are the number codes for aspartame, so avoid purchasing anything with those numbers.

Start cutting back on the artificially sweetened drinks, with a view of eliminating them completely from your diet to protect your heart and brain health.

Louise Hallinan is the international award-winning author of Smart Brain, Healthy Brain, a natural medicine practitioner and founder of the Smart Brain Health Centre which specialises in the prevention of memory problems and improving brain health.