Are you one of the millions of Americans who choose diet soft drinks over regular ones to avoid the risks associated with high sugar intake?

Don't pat yourself on the back just yet. Research presented at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference in 2011 suggests a link between diet soda consumption and vascular events, including heart attacks and strokes.

Does this make diet soft drinks just as bad as their sugary counterparts? Hannah Gardener, the report's lead author, isn't making that claim just yet. We are still working on the analysis, she revealed to WebMD.  The results have yet to be officially published.

This was a small-scale research project; Gardener and colleagues surveyed just 2,564 people, all of whom were based in north Manhattan.  Participants were monitored for about ten years and given check-ups to monitor blood pressure, cholesterol, weight changes and more. During that time, about one fourth had a heart attack, suffered a stroke, or died of cardiovascular problems. That's compared to almost a third of those who drank diet soda every day.

Those preliminary findings seem significant -- a 48 percent increase in heart attack and stroke risk among those who drink diet soda every day is nothing to sneeze at. The reason for this link is under investigation.  Some experts point to a possible tendency of diet soda drinkers to have greater appetites for unhealthy foods. Others note that caramel coloring additives, found in all dark colas, have been tentatively linked to vascular problems.

So should diet soda drinkers kick the habit right away? It's too soon to tell. And as it stands, the link between diet drink consumption and vascular disease has not been proven. That's why Gardener is stunned at the amount of attention the research has garnered so far. I think diet soda drinkers need to stay tuned, she explained. I don't think that anyone should be changing their behaviors based on one study.

So the jury is out on whether diet sodas are directly responsible for an increase in vascular risk. On the other hand, it is certain that regular sodas are bad for consumers in several proven ways. They are a source of empty calories and excessive sugar, and a major culprit in the American obesity epidemic. 

So when it comes to which type of beverage is worse for your health, regular soda still takes the cake. Diet soda has not been linked conclusively to life-threatening vascular events. Of course, none of this changes the fact that neither type of soda is doing you any favors. Medical experts agree that when it comes to hydration, good old-fashioned water is your best bet.