Is Diet Coke worse than regular Coke?

It’s a well-known fact that soda has detrimental effects on your health so as an alternative many people choose to drink “diet” versions of their favorites such as Diet Coke, Sprite Zero, Diet Mountain Dew etc. What many people don’t realize is that despite having no sugar, diet drinks contain many other chemicals – some which are a lot more harmful than sugar.

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A study by the University of Texas at Austin found that 59% of Americans drink diet soda regularly. I think what appeals to people about these diet drinks is the big fat “0 CALORIES” printed on their labels. I mean, if a drink is calorie free then it must not be bad for you, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, diet sodas contain other addictive, dangerous and artificial sweeteners that have a serious negative impact on your health. The most common artificial sweeteners are aspartame, sucralose and saccharine.

Aspartame is much sweeter than sugar, it is used in small amounts which as a result reduces the amount of calories. It is the combination of the amino acids: aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Aspartic acid in liquid form is absorbed much quicker by the body and can cause an individual to have headaches, nausea, sleep problems and fatigue. The consumption of excessive aspartic acid could eventually lead to neuron damage in your brain which could lead to chronic illnesses, including: ALS, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. On the other hand, phenylalanine decreases the levels of serotonin in your brain which leads to depression.

Although sucralose and sugar taste extremely similar, they have one big difference: our bodies can’t metabolize sucralose so it goes right through us. Our body detects that something sweet has been eaten and activates mechanisms to capture the energy that sugars usually provide but receive nothing. After some time, our body stops responding to all sugars, even the real ones from sweets and fruits! As a result, people who drink diet drinks are 34% more likely to develop metabolic syndrome (which could lead to various heart diseases as well).

Saccharine is considered to be sweeter than sugar but has a bitter aftertaste. Until 2010, anything with saccharine had a warning label on it because it was considered that dangerous. Although it has no calories, the two main potential side effects of consuming it are weight gain and diabetes. A study done with rats, showed that the group given artificially sweetened food had a slowed down metabolism, higher calorie intake and gained more weight (compared to rats given real sugar food).

To conclude, I think regular sodas might just be better than diet sodas. Excessive consumption of either one could lead to serious health issues but if you’re desperately craving soda, drinking regular in a small amount is probably best. However, if you want a calorie free drink but don’t want to be obese, have diabetes or rotting teeth, stick with water!

Other sources used:

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9 thoughts on “Is Diet Coke worse than regular Coke?

  1. Dana Corinne Pirrotta


    I actually don’t drink soda, and I don’t like coke, but my Mom sure does! I’m sure she is addicted to Diet Coke. She always tells me that she wishes she didn’t like it so much because of its high levels of aspartame. From what I have learned in school (and read again in this blog post) aspartame is pretty bad for your body. I also read online that aspartame may even lead to the development of cancer in some people. Here’s a link
    to the cancer society website. My mom always says she drinks diet coke because normal coke has too many calories, but what is worse? Calories or chemicals?

  2. Luyi Yao

    I am on diet now but I really like soda. So I am really interested in your topic. When I choose food, I pay much attention to calculate the calories of food. So sometimes I prefer to drink diet coke. I never imagined that drinking much diet coke may causes neuron damage due to aspartame. And it is also terrible that diet drinks can lead to metabolic syndrome. So the evidence and analysis you show are very convincing and useful. “Calorie free” doesn’t mean healthy. Thank you for post this blog and let me understand these facts!

    1. Emaan Ali Post author

      I’m glad you know the facts now! I knew it was bad for you, but until I did research for this blog I didn’t know how bad diet drinks/artificial sweeteners were! Look at this article article too. I don’t think calorie counting is the greatest thing to do when on a diet (the article explains why). Try focuses on the actual nutrition you’re getting. For example: eating an egg with 70 calories would be better than eating 50 calories worth of candy as an egg has proteins, vitamins etc. and the candy is just sugar.

  3. Emma G Schadler

    Yikes, you’ve just put all my fears about diet Coke into words. My grandfather has a chronic heart condition that requires him to eat much healthier than he had for the past few years of his life. One of the food choices he was told to make was to stop consuming anything labeled as ‘diet.’ Their doctor told them the main reason for that was because of aspartame, which is really quite scary when you learn about the damage it can do to you, as you mentioned with ALS, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease. I can agree with Matthew as well that I didn’t actually start drinking diet drinks because of the zero calorie label, but because I personally dislike the taste of regular soft drinks.

    What really stuck me about your post was saccharine. I had never heard of it before reading this, and I find it absurd that it once had a warning label for being a dangerous substance to consume but is now a common ingredient and frequently consumed by the general public. It makes me feel rather pessimistic when I remember that the original Coke had traces of cocaine in the product. You would think that the FDA would try to continue with their positive trend of not having harmful substances in common drinks, but instead we seem to be stuck in this unhealthy limbo until more attention is brought to the topic.

  4. Jarrod T Skole

    My mother has always drank diet coke because she thought it was healthier than regular coke, but now I can not wait to tell her how wrong she is and how badly it is affecting her. I always wondered what made a diet soda different than a regular soda other than the slight taste change. Knowing that all the chemicals they add into their sod can affect us so harshly is eye opening. I wonder if there could be any other substances they could put in their drinks instead of these harmful chemicals.

    Another topic that might interest you is about how certain sodas can be extremely acidic. As we all learned in chemistry class, a neutral pH is 7 and whatever else is below that is an acid and soda falls below 7.But have you ever wondered how acidic soda really is and how it affects our teeth and insides? My teacher never told me how acidic a soda could be but to just think you are drinking something acidic on a daily basis is a little scary. This could be a very interesting and shocking topic to look up.

    1. Emaan Ali Post author

      My sister is like that but unfortunately she still chooses to drink diet sodas despite knowing what they contain. I hope your mom stops!
      Thanks for bringing up the acidity thing, I never even thought of that. I actually just googled it and soda is the most acidic drink you can buy!! (Technically vinegar is but no one drinks that, haha). Sodas have pH levels of 2.5 and just to give a comparison battery acid has a pH level of 1! I’m so shocked. People need to be more educated on the contents of soda because it’s so frequently consumed and so so so terrible for you.

  5. Matthew O'Brien

    I was pleased to see someone take this topic on as I myself am a compulsive Diet Coke drinker (to the tune of about 200oz per day!). I drink it immediately upon waking up in the morning and continue to do so wherever and whenever the opportunity arrises throughout the day. It seems crazy now that I am putting it in writing, but it is a part of my daily routine that I seldom give any real thought to.

    I think that if you were to make a case against Diet Soda, there are several other considerations that you could have addressed. For example, studies show that diet soda can harmfully amplify the effects of alcohol on the body, an issue quite relevant for many college students. Also, it would have been interesting to read about whether artificial sweeteners are direct causes of type 2 diabetes.

    As far as the rat study goes, I would argue that human observation is much more relevant in this case. This article has really interesting insights about this. It also discusses the possibility that diet soda drinkers eat more food because they think that they can with the calorie savings from diet drinks- not always the case.

    Additionally, I must say that I disagree that the “0 Calorie” label is the main motivation for excessive consumption of diet sodas. Speaking from personal experience and interactions with other Diet Coke lovers, I can say that it really is the taste and the addictive nature of the drink that attracts us. Your post did not have any kind of survey or study looking into the popularity of diet drinks.

    1. Emaan Ali Post author

      Hey Matthew! You sound just like my sister, she has Diet Coke with at least one meal per day!
      Rats and humans have very similar physiology and organs so I still find the study I shared pretty relevant. But you are correct in saying that there could be other factors contributing to weight gain among dieters.
      I actually can’t really tell the difference between diet and regular coke but for diet soda drinkers like yourself, I’m sure the love for the drink is why you reach for it, rather than the 0 calorie label. For me personally, when I used to drink soda I opted for the calorie free option as I thought it was healthier/better.

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