Replacing sugary soda with diet variations may not be the best way to reduce health risks, researchers at the  American Stroke Association’s 2011 International Stroke Conference reported.

People who drank diet soda everyday had a 48% higher risk of vascular events during a 9 year follow-up period compared with those who reported no soda drinking (RR 1.48, 95% CI 1.3 to 2.12), data from the Northern Manhattan Study revealed (Abstract #P55). No association was found between stroke and those who reported consuming regular soda or diet soda less frequently.

The large, multiethnic study conducted by researchers at Columbia University in New York and the University of Miami, involved 2,564 people aged 40 years and older living in New York City.

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“If our results are confirmed with future studies, then it would suggest that diet soda may not be the optimal substitute for sugar-sweetened beverages for protection against vascular events,” Hannah Gardener, ScD, of the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, said in a press release.

Results of a food frequency questionnaire at baseline revealed that only 114 participants reported drinking diet sodal daily, whereas 35% of the cohort did not drink either regular or diet soda and 24% reported drinking any diet soda.

A total of 559 incident vascular events, including 212 strokes, 149 MIs, and 338 vascular deaths occurred during the follow-up period.

The researchers emphasized the need for additional research before any dietary recommendations could be made, noting that the research consisted of self-reported data and that other dietary factors may have influenced results.

High levels of sodium consumption were also observed in a separate analysis involving 2,657 participants from the same study (Abstract #25). Participants reported an average daily salt intake of 3,031 mg, with only about one third meeting current U.S. Dietary Guidelines to consume only a teaspoon of salt or less, and only 12% meeting the American Heart Association’s recommendation of less than 1,500 mg daily.

About one-fifth of individuals consumed more than 4,000 mg of sodium per day more than doubling their risk of stroke compared with those who followed AHA recommendations (95% CI 1.31 to 5.41), data indicated.

“The take-home message is that high sodium intake is a risk factor ischemic stroke among people with hypertension as well as among those without hypertension, underscoring the importance of limiting consumption of high sodium foods for stroke prevention,” Gardener said.