What can be more refreshing than an ice-cold glass of cola on a hot summer day? If it's sugar-free, that's even better. You can enjoy your favorite drink anytime, anywhere, without having to worry about calories. But what you might not know is that Diet Coke health risks outweigh the benefits. Just because this beverage has zero sugar and zero calories doesn't mean it's good for you.
Weight gain, glucose intolerance, diabetes and heartburn are just a few of the many side effects of diet soda. Consider replacing this beverage with lemon water, unsweetened iced tea, herbal tea or coconut water, which are healthier and more nutritious.
The Skinny on Coke Zero
Coke Zero Sugar, previously known as Coke Zero, is a favorite choice for dieters worldwide. It tastes just like the standard version but without the extra calories and sugar. It comes in four different flavors, including cherry, vanilla, orange vanilla and original Coke.
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This popular beverage has been around since 2005. Its formula was modified in 2017, hence the name change. The new version has a slightly different flavor and packaging. Like Coke Zero, it's made with acesulfame K and aspartame and has no calories. In addition to artificial sweeteners, Coke Zero Sugar contains:
- Potassium citrate
- Potassium benzoate
- Phosphoric acid
- Natural flavors
- Carbonated water
- Caramel color
Sodium and potassium are the only nutrients in this product. Each can of Coke Zero provides 34 milligrams of caffeine. According to the Mayo Clinic, most adults can safely consume up to 400 milligrams of caffeine without experiencing any side effects. The artificial sweeteners and additives in Coke Zero are the problem.
Coke Zero vs. Diet Coke
Coke Zero is often referred to as Diet Coke and vice versa. Despite their similarities, these beverages are not one and the same. Diet Coke was launched in 1983 and has a slightly different flavor. Additionally, it contains citric acid, while Coke Zero is made with phosphoric acid.
Both beverages are formulated with ingredients sourced from genetically engineered crops, according to the manufacturer. Coca-Cola claims that GMOs don't pose any health risks. A 2015 report published by Harvard University confirms their safety. Research indicates no relationship between GMOs and organ function, fertility, pregnancy or gene transfer.
The health risks associated with these drinks are due to aspartame and acesulfame potassium, or acesulfame K. The Center for Science in the Public Interest advises against using these sugar substitutes. According to a 2014 review published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, aspartame exhibits carcinogenic effects. Drinking more than one serving of diet soda per day has been shown to increase the risk of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in men.
Side Effects of Diet Soda
Both Coke Zero and Diet Coke can affect your health in the long run. Weight gain, diabetes, insulin resistance and heart disease are just a few of the many side effects of diet soda. Not to mention bloating and heartburn, which are common among most consumers.
According to a 2016 meta-analysis featured in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, drinking one serving of diet soda per day may increase diabetes risk by 8 percent. Artificially sweetened beverages can negatively affect the microbiota, food preferences and hormones, leading to a higher risk of obesity and metabolic disorders. Another study, which was published in the journal Nature in 2014, indicates that artificial sweeteners alter the gut flora, causing glucose intolerance.
Read more: What Are the Dangers of Coke?
Diet soda is harmful to your heart as well. According to a 2016 study in the Archives of Cardiovascular Diseases, the risk of hypertension increases by 8 percent with each daily serving of artificially sweetened beverages. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Furthermore, these beverages may contribute to stroke and cardiovascular events.
Coke Zero and Weight Gain
With zero calories and zero sugar, this beverage seems ideal for those who want to keep fit. Drinking a can of Diet Coke every now and then is unlikely to affect your weight. Regular consumption of diet soda, on the other hand, may cause you to pack on pounds.
A recent study published in The BMJ in 2017 has found no differences in body weight between subjects consuming artificial sweeteners and those eating sugar. Therefore, diet soda isn't any better for weight loss than sugary beverages. Another study, which appeared in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in the same year, suggests that aspartame and other artificial sweeteners may affect cardiovascular health and increase body mass index when consumed regularly.
These additives have adverse effects on adiposity, body weight, appetite control and glucose metabolism. Regular consumption can alter gut bacteria and affect glycemic control, leading to a higher risk of diabetes and obesity. As the Canadian Medical Association Journal points out, there's a strong link between artificial sweeteners and weight gain. These ingredients make people crave sugar and find naturally sweet foods unappealing, which in turn, may increase food intake, according to Harvard Health Publishing.
Diet Soda Increases Mortality Risk
The dangers of Diet Coke go beyond weight gain. This may come as a surprise, but diet soda can take years off your life and make you sick.
A 2019 study conducted on more than 80,000 women, which was published by the Australian Heart Foundation, has found that artificially sweetened beverages increase the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and death from all causes. Healthy subjects who consumed these drinks regularly were twice as likely to have a stroke as those who rarely or never drank diet soda.
These beverages have been also linked to a higher risk of dementia. The risk of Alzheimer's disease is 2.9 times higher in people who drink one or more artificially sweetened beverage daily, as the American Heart Foundation notes. Additionally, diet drinks have no nutritional value. Fruit-infused water, herbal tea, low-fat milk and other natural beverages are far more nutritious and have none of the side effects of diet soda.
Read more: 10 Easy Drink Swaps to Cut Down on Sugar
Are There Any Benefits?
Now that you know the dangers of diet coke, you may wonder if it has any health benefits. First of all, it's sugar free, however, this doesn't necessarily mean it promotes weight loss, as highlighted in a number of studies. But it can be a good choice for those who are addicted to sugary drinks, such as cappuccino, latte macchiato, carbonated soft drinks, energy drinks and so on. Swapping these beverages for Coke Zero can make it easier to lose weight and cut back on sugar.
Coke Zero also contains caffeine, which is a natural energizer. According to a 2017 research paper published in the Annual Review of Nutrition, caffeine may lower the risk of diabetes and Parkinson's disease. The downside is that it can lead to miscarriage and high blood pressure.
There are healthier alternatives to diet soda. Unsweetened iced tea, vegetable smoothies, lemon water, freshly squeezed lemonade and herbal infusions are just a few examples. Loaded with vitamins and antioxidants, these beverages will quench your thirst and boost your energy. Plus, they are low in calories and contain no added sugars.
- Coca-Cola Company: What’s the Difference Between Coke Zero and Coca-Cola Zero Sugar?
- Coca-Cola Product Facts: Coca Cola Zero Sugar Original
- CNN: Coca-Cola Is Replacing Coke Zero With a New Drink
- Mayo Clinic: Caffeine: How Much Is Too Much?
- Coca-Cola: What’s the Difference Between Coca-Cola Zero Sugar and Diet Coke?
- Coca-Cola Product Facts: Diet Coke
- Harvard University: Will GMOs Hurt My Body? The Public’s Concerns and How Scientists Have Addressed Them
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: Chemical Cuisine
- CSPInet.org: American Journal of Industrial Medicine: The Carcinogenic Effects of Aspartame: The Urgent Need for Regulatory Re-Evaluation
- BMJ: Consumption of Sugar Sweetened Beverages, Artificially Sweetened Beverages, and Fruit Juice and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes
- Nature: Artificial Sweeteners Induce Glucose Intolerance by Altering the Gut Microbiota
- ScienceDirect: Archives of Cardiovascular Disease: Prospective Association of Sugar-Sweetened and Artificially Sweetened Beverage Intake With Risk of Hypertension
- Wiley Online Library: The International Journal of Clinical Practice: Soft Drinks and Sweetened Beverages and the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Mortality
- The BMJ: Association Between Intake of Non-Sugar Sweeteners and Health Outcomes
- CMAJ.ca: Nonnutritive Sweeteners and Cardiometabolic Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials and Prospective Cohort Studies
- Harvard Health Publishing: Does Drinking Diet Soda Raise the Risk of a Stroke?
- AHA Journals: Stroke: Artificially Sweetened Beverages and Stroke, Coronary Heart Disease, and All-Cause Mortality in the Women’s Health Initiative
- American Heart Association: Diet Drinks and Possible Association With Stroke and Dementia; Current Science Suggests Need for More Research
- Annual Reviews: Annual Review of Nutrition: Coffee, Caffeine, and Health Outcomes: An Umbrella Review