Health: Coca-Cola Vs. Coke Zero

Coca-Cola is one of the most popular soft drinks in the world. The Coca-Cola Company sells a range of products, including regular Coca-Cola, Diet Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola Zero Sugar. While these products all taste fairly similar, they contain different sweeteners. Some of these sweeteners are meant to be low in calories, but may not be the best if you're trying to lose weight.

Coke is not healthy due to the artificial sweeteners used. (Image: Lemon_tm/iStock/GettyImages)

Coca-Cola Nutrition Facts

Coca-Cola is soda made from carbonated water, high-fructose corn syrup, caramel coloring, phosphoric acid, natural flavorings and caffeine. The Coca-Cola Company sells cola drinks in a range of sizes, from 7.5 fluid ounces to 1 liter. The serving sizes for these beverages can differ: A single serving can be as little as 7.5 ounces (222 milliliters) or as much as 20 ounces (591.5 milliliters).

One small 7.5-ounce can of Coca-Cola has 90 calories, 25 grams of sugar and 30 milligrams of sodium (1 percent of the daily value). Each 12 ounce can of Coca-Cola has 140 calories, 39 grams of sugars and 45 milligrams of sodium (2 percent of the daily value). A 16-ounce can of Coca-Cola has 190 calories, 52 grams of sugar and 60 milligrams of sodium (3 percent of the daily value). Each 20-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola has 240 calories, 65 grams of sugar and 75 milligrams of sodium (3 percent of the daily value).

All the sugar in Coca-Cola drinks come from added sugars. The Food and Drug Administration recommends consuming less than 10 percent of your daily calories from added sugars. Since most people consume about 2,000 calories each day, this means that no more than 200 of your daily calories should come from added sugars. Since Coke is primarily made of added sugars, a healthy serving of Coca-Cola should be around 16 ounces or less.

Coke Zero Nutrition Facts

Coca-Cola Zero shares some, but not all, of Coca-Cola's ingredients. Coca-Cola Zero, also known as Coke Zero, is made of carbonated water, caramel color, phosphoric acid, aspartame, potassium benzoate, natural flavorings, potassium citrate, acesulfame potassium and caffeine.

Unlike Coca-Cola, Coke Zero has no sugars. Coke Zero's calories are also nonexistent. The lack of sugar and calories in Coke Zero is the major attribute of this beverage. Coke Zero's nutrition is negligible — it has just 2 percent of the daily value for potassium and sodium (40 to 55 milligrams) per 12- or 16-ounce can. This product is made for people trying to reduce their sugar intake or daily calories.

While most people can consume this beverage safely, it may not be best for people with phenylketonuria, a metabolic disorder. People with phenylketonuria need to be careful not to ingest too many foods with the amino acid phenylalanine, which is found in the aspartame used to make Coke Zero. If you have phenylketonuria, a different type of Coca-Cola product may be a better choice.

Caffeine in Coca-Cola

According to the Food and Drug Administration, caffeine can be a part of a healthy diet. However, most adults shouldn't consume more than 400 milligrams of caffeine each day. That's roughly four or five cups of coffee.

Coca-Cola has 34 milligrams of caffeine in 12-ounce cans or 45 milligrams in 16-ounce cans. Coca-Cola Zero has the same amount of caffeine as regular Coca-Cola. The Coca-Cola Company doesn't list the caffeine content of smaller or larger servings.

While it wouldn't be sensible to drink large amounts of Coca-Cola beverages because of the sweeteners used in them, their caffeine content means that you could safely drink around nine or 10 cans of Coca-Cola in a day and not exceed daily recommended caffeine limits.

How Is Coke Zero Sweetened?

All Coca-Cola drinks are sweet beverages. While regular Coca-Cola uses sugar from high-fructose corn syrup, Coca-Cola Zero is sweetened using aspartame. You may be familiar with aspartame, as it's also the sweetener in products like Nutrasweet, Equal and Sugar Twin. It is 200 times sweeter than sugar.

However, even though aspartame is sweeter than sugar, it has none of sugar's calories and no carbohydrates. This product was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1981. Aspartame is categorized as a nutritive, high-intensity sweetener, which means that it has more than 2 percent of the calories compared to the same amount of sugar. Aspartame is currently the most commonly used artificial sweetener in the world.

People who use aspartame should consume no more than 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight each day. This is equivalent to about 75 tabletop sweetener packets.

Coke Zero’s Health Risks

Coke Zero is marketed as a zero-carbohydrate, zero-calorie product. Many people who are trying to maintain a healthy weight will reduce their calorie intake or carbohydrate intake in order to support a healthy diet. However, Coke Zero may not be a healthy product due to the sweetener it uses.

Coke Zero's health risks are primarily due to its aspartame content. The safety of aspartame was initially questioned because it was believed to cause cancer. However, according to a May 2015 study in the Archives of Environmental & Occupational Health Journal and the American Cancer Society, the results of these studies have not been consistent enough for aspartame to be considered a carcinogen. The Food and Drug Administration considers aspartame to be safe in this regard, but other major drinks companies, like PepsiCo, have removed this ingredient from their products anyway.

Unfortunately, aspartame has been tied to other health issues. According to a June 2016 study in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology, aspartame can increase glucose and insulin levels just like sucrose does. This means that this sweetener could be harmful to diabetics. A May 2016 study in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism also found that aspartame consumption increases glucose intolerance.

Additionally, people who consumed aspartame and other artificial sweeteners had a slightly higher body mass index (BMI) compared to people who consumed natural sweeteners. If you're trying to lose weight, this means that both regular and no-carb Coca-Cola products may be unable to support healthy weight loss.

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