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Does drinking soda cause depression?: Not so fast

Below is my latest blog post for Huffington Post on soda and depression. You can also read it here.

As a nutritionist counseling clients on diet and health, I got numerous calls this week about the latest study on soda. And this one offers up more bad new for soda. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, suggests that drinking soda — including diet soda — is associated with an increased risk with depression. For the good news, drinking coffee was tied to a lower risk. The study will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 65th Annual Meeting in March. (This is the same time Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on selling sodas larger than 16 ounces is set to take effect in delis, fast-food restaurants, and other eating establishments in New York City.)

This was a large study involving over 250,000 people ages 50-71. Subjects who drank more than four cans or cups per day of soda were up to 30 percent more likely to develop depression than those who did not drink soda. And the risk appeared to be greater for people who drank diet soda.

If you love coffee, here is some good news: People who drank four cups of coffee daily were nearly 10 percent less likely to develop depression than those who did not drink coffee.

So, what do we make of this study?

The study doesn’t show that soda causes depression, but rather found an association between the two — soda drinkers were more likely to be diagnosed with depression. It is important not to confuse the two.

Here is what I told the New York Daily News when called to comment on the study:

It’s hard to tell from this single study what the exact connection between sweetened drinks and mood might be — but either way, you’re better off cutting back, says Lisa Young, Ph.D, R.D., an NYC-based nutritionist and adjunct professor in the department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at NYU.

“I’m not a fan of diet soda, but I don’t think it’s the soda alone that’s causing depression,” she told the Daily News. “The thing about soda is, you don’t often drink it alone — you drink it with junk food. You’re not getting enough fiber and protein with that sugar, and your blood sugar not being stable could throw off your mood.”

Diet soda drinkers who are focused on weight loss might also be blue from feeling like they’re struggling with their weight, she said. “You’re getting that false sense of sweetness, so you’re never really satisfied,” which could lead to continued cravings, she said. “[The soda] could be safe, but I think it puts you into this pattern of not really eating healthfully.”

As you may know, I am not a fan of soda — both regular and diet soda — and I think it is worth limiting for reasons other than depression. Regular soda provides unnecessary calories and sugar, while diet soda contains unnecessary chemicals. A 16-ounce soda contains far too many liquid calories — nearly 200 empty calories, all of which come from sugar. This is one of the reasons I am an avid supporter of Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on sugar-sweetened beverages, as I wrote for the New York Daily News and for HuffPost.

So, what should one drink, I am often asked by clients and friends.

I’d suggest water, flavored seltzers, and herbal teas. And, if you love coffee, I guess you can get some encouragement from this study. Just hold the sugar and those pastel-colored sugar substitute packets.

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