People who drink at least one (regular or diet) soda a day are more likely to be diagnosed with the metabolic syndrome, say researchers who tracked roughly 9,000 men and women for four years.

The metabolic syndrome, which raises the risk of heart disease and diabetes, applies to anyone with at least three of the following:

* waist: at least 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men

* fasting blood sugar: at least 100

* triglycerides: at least 150

* blood pressure: at least 135 over 85

* HDL ("good",) cholesterol: less than 50 for women and less than 40 for men.

The risk of being diagnosed with the syndrome was 44 percent higher in people who consumed at least one soft drink a day than in those who consumed less.

What to do: To stay trim, avoid sugar-sweetened sodas. But based on just one study, it's too early to say whether diet soda might lead to weight gain and other features of the metabolic syndrome.

Odds are that the diet-soda drinkers in this study did other things that increased their risk. For example, they ate more bad fat and less fiber, and they were more likely to smoke. The researchers adjusted for those and other known "confounders," but they could have missed others.

Your best option: drink water.

Circulation 116: 480, 2007.

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