Diet soda is a go-to beverage for people counting calories or carbohydrates because diet sodas are not sweetened with sugar. Regular cola contains 260 calories and 65 grams of sugar per 20-ounce bottle, compared to diet sodas that have zero calories and zero grams of sugar. These drinks maintain the sweetness of their sugary counterparts because they contain artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, saccharin and acesulfame potassium.
The sweetener aspartame was discovered in 1965, and since then, it has been the subject of more than 200 scientific studies. Aspartame is often known by its brand name, Equal. Aspartame can be found in 6,000 products, including diet soda, breath mints and sugar-free ice cream. About 200 times sweeter than sucrose, aspartame is different from other artificial sweeteners because it can be completely broken down by the human body. The byproducts of aspartame breakdown are all found naturally in the milk, meat, fruits and vegetables that people eat every day. Despite the bad press aspartame often receives, a review paper published in "Food and Chemical Toxicology" found that there was no association between aspartame and medical conditions such as cancer, preterm deliveries and vascular events.
Sucralose, also known as Splenda, stands out because several sensory studies showed that sucralose does not have the bitter aftertaste that other sugar substitutes have. One benefit diet soda manufacturers experience when using sucralose is that the substance's sweetness level does not change during high-temperature manufacturing processes. Sucralose also maintains stability when included in low-pH products like diet soda. Sucralose is about 600 times sweeter than sucrose. Public health authorities in the United States and other countries have determined that sucralose is a safe artificial sweetener.
Bully for Saccharin
Saccharin, commonly known now as Sweet'N Low, was discovered at Johns Hopkins University in 1879. Shortly after it was first introduced to the food industry, President Theodore Roosevelt said, "Anybody who says saccharin is injurious to health is an idiot." Saccharin did not become widely used, however, until the sugar rationing days of World War II. Since then, saccharin has been a useful calorie-free sweetener due to the rising rates of obesity in the United States. There were concerns about the safety of saccharin in the past because of bladder tumors found in rats that consumed large amounts of saccharin. More than 30 studies, however, show that saccharin has no link to cancer and is a safe sugar substitute.
Acesulfame potassium is also known as ace-K and has been used in food and drink products since 1983. Common brand names for ace-K include Sunette, Sweet One and Swiss Sweet. Ace-K was discovered in Germany in 1967 by Hoechst scientists. Ace-K is used in more than 5,000 products, including diet soda. About 90 studies about this artificial sweetener show that it is safe for use in human food products. Like aspartame, ace-K is about 200 times sweeter than sucrose. Ace-K is safe for people with diabetes and does not influence tooth decay like regular table sugar does.
- Diet Coke: Sweeteners & You
- American Diabetes Association: Artificial Sweeteners
- Aspartame Information Center: Benefits of Aspartame
- The Crimson White: Health Risks May Outweigh the Low Calories of Diet Soda
- Food and Chemical Toxicology: Aspartame, Low-Calorie Sweeteners and Disease: Regulatory Safety and Epidemiological Issues
- Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology: An Overview of the Safety of Sucralose
- Saccharin: History of Saccharin
- Calorie Control Council: Sweet Facts About Acesulfame Potassium: ACE-K FAQ
- Calorie Control Council: Sweet Facts About Acesulfame Potassium: The Facts About Acesulfame Potassium
- Coca-Cola: Nutrition Facts