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Hispanic Health News

Looking Beyond Headlines about Recent Heart Research

Looking Beyond Headlines about Recent Heart Research

Photo: Sylvia Melendez-Klinger of Hispanic Food Communications

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Commentary provided by Sylvia Melendez-Klinger, registered dietitian and certified personal trainer.  She is also founder of Hispanic Food Communications, a food communications and culinary consulting company based in Hinsdale, Illinois:

Your recent article, “Sugary Drinks Can Be Hard on Heart: Study,” (March 14) caught my attention. I am a Chicago-area based registered dietitian, and since many of my patients are Hispanics, I wanted to provide some additional thoughts.

I think your article nicely illustrates the need to advise consumers to read between the fine lines of a study before jumping to conclusions and starting to panic.  It’s something I frequently see with nutrition research, which I closely follow as a consultant to food and beverage companies, including Coca-Cola. Even though you mentioned the underlining results of the study and that it did not show cause and effect, I still felt the need to point out a few details you may want to consider when covering similar types of studies in the future.

I’d like to emphasize that the authors speculated the changes they found in some lipid and inflammatory markers with consumption of sweetened soft drinks may be an additional pathway by which these beverages impact cardiovascular health.  On the other hand, they noted limitations, including the fact that they were unable to control for certain other factors that may have impacted the results (e.g., stress, a major risk factor for CHD, as identified by the U.S. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute

Also, the sample of studied patients is not representative of the general population. For example, in addition to the cohort being all male and primarily of European descent, the mean triglyceride value (164 mg/dL) was borderline high vs. normal (<150 mg/dL) for the group surveyed. High levels of triglycerides are a known risk factor for heart disease.

I think it is also important to point out that the significant associations between diet drink consumption and cardiometabolic dysfunction and Type 2 diabetes mellitus seen in previous studies the authors mentioned were probably due to confounding and reverse causality.  Basically, reverse causality means the effects [e.g., Type 2 diabetes] precede the alleged “cause” [e.g., diet drinks].  The authors acknowledged that and noted “the need for cautious interpretation of studies reporting positive associations between diet drinks and cardiometabolic and cardiovascular outcomes.”

While cutting calories from your total daily intake undoubtedly is one of the pieces to losing weight and keeping your heart healthy, I don’t believe we can blame chronic disease on one single food or beverage. Heart disease is also a multi-causal issue, and as health professionals we know that Americans derive sugar (and other calories) from many sources – not just soft drinks. Furthermore, a review published in the journal Nutrition Research Reviews concluded there is little evidence from epidemiological studies that sugar-sweetened drinks are more likely than any other sources of calories to lead to obesity.

By focusing on sweetened soft drinks alone, I am afraid we are missing the bigger picture. Keeping a healthy heart is about moderation, balancing calorie intake and taking part in appropriate levels of exercise. In my professional opinion, only those factors in tandem with nutrition education will truly address our heart health issues.