Diet drink

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Diet (alternatively marketed as sugar-free, zero-calorie or low-calorie) drinks are sugar-free, artificially sweetened versions of carbonated beverages with virtually no calories. They are generally marketed toward health-conscious people, diabetics, athletes, and other people who want to lose weight, improve physical fitness, or reduce their sugar intake.


The beginning of the diet drink or refreshment era was in 1952, when Kirsch Bottling in Brooklyn, New York launched a sugar-free ginger ale called No-Cal.[1] It was designed for diabetics, not dieters, and distribution remained local. Royal Crown Cola placed an announcement in an Atlanta newspaper in 1958 announcing a diet product, Diet Rite. In 1962, Dr Pepper released a diet(etic) version of its soft drink, although it sold slowly due to the misconception that it was meant solely for diabetic consumption. In 1963, the Coca-Cola Company joined the diet soft drink market with Tab, which proved to be a huge success. Tab was originally sweetened with cyclamates and saccharin.

Tab, Diet Rite, and Fresca (a grapefruit-flavored drink introduced by Coca-Cola) were the only brand-name diet refreshments on the market until Pepsi released Patio Diet Cola in 1963 and renamed Diet Pepsi the following year. Diet 7 Up was released in 1963 under the name Like. It was discontinued in 1969 due to the U.S. government ban of cyclamate sweetener. After reformulation, it was reintroduced as Diet 7 Up in 1970.[2] It was renamed Sugar Free 7 Up in 1973 then back to Diet 7 Up in 1979. Coca-Cola countered by releasing Diet Coke in 1982. After the release of Diet Coke, Tab took a backseat on the Coca-Cola production lines; Diet Coke could be more easily identified by consumers as associated with Coca-Cola than Tab. Additionally, a study was released claiming that saccharin was a possible carcinogen, leading to Coca-Cola's decision to decrease production of Tab. Prompted by the rising popularity of soft drinks, in the mid-1980s some of those in the alcohol industry began to follow their lead with some beer companies putting sugar-free beer on the market.

By the early 1990s, a wide array of companies had their own diet refreshments on supermarket shelves. Tab made a comeback during the late 1990s, after new studies demonstrated that saccharin is not an important factor in the risk of cancer. Nevertheless, the Coca-Cola Company has maintained its 1984 reformulation, replacing some of the saccharin in Tab with NutraSweet.

By 2002, some beverage companies had diversified to include such flavors as vanilla and lemon among their products, and diet drinks were soon being produced with those flavors as well (see Diet Vanilla Coke, Diet Pepsi Vanilla). By 2004, several alcohol companies had released sugar-free or "diet" alcoholic products too.[1]


Multiple artificial sweeteners can be used to give diet soft drinks a sweet taste without sugar. Sometimes two sweeteners are used in the same beverage. Opinion is mixed as to the taste of these beverages: some think they lack the taste of their sugar-sweetened counterparts, while others think the taste is similar. Some also note an unusual non-sugary aftertaste.[citation needed] Some[who?] feel the opposite—that diet drinks have no aftertaste and that drinks sweetened by high fructose corn syrup have a gritty, over-sweet aftertaste[citation needed].

Diet Coke is the number one selling diet soft drink in the world.


Aspartame, commonly known by the brand name NutraSweet, is one of the most commonly used artificial sweeteners. The 1982 introduction of aspartame-sweetened Diet Coke accelerated this trend. Today, at least in the United States, "diet" is nearly synonymous with the use of aspartame in beverages.


The first artificial sweeteners used in diet soft drinks were cyclamates (often synergistically with saccharin). While many say these cyclamate-sweetened beverages had a more pleasant taste than the diet drinks that followed them, the Food and Drug Administration banned cyclamates in the United States in 1970 on evidence that they caused cancer in lab rats. Cyclamates are still used in many countries outside of the United States.


Once cyclamates were banned, American producers turned to saccharin. When used by itself, saccharin was often criticized for having a bitter taste and "chemical" aftertaste. Some products, such as Coca-Cola's Tab, attempted to rectify this by adding a small amount of sugar. In 1977, the FDA was petitioned to ban saccharin, too, as a carcinogen, but a moratorium was placed on the ban until studies were conducted. The ban was lifted in 1991, but by that time, virtually all diet soft drink production had shifted to using aspartame. Perhaps the most notable holdout is Tab, which also uses some aspartame in its formula.

Sucralose and acesulfame potassium; "sugar-free" soft drinks[edit]

Recently, two other sweeteners have been used with increasing frequency: sucralose (marketed as Splenda) and acesulfame potassium ("Sunett" or "Ace K"). The K in "Ace K" represents the chemical symbol for potassium. Acesulfame potassium is usually combined with aspartame, sucralose, or saccharin rather than alone and its use is particularly common among smaller beverage producers (e.g. Big Red). Diet Rite is the non-aspartame diet soft drink brand with the highest sales today; it uses a combination of sucralose and acesulfame potassium.

Advocates say drinks employing these sweeteners have a more natural sugar-like taste than those made just with aspartame, and do not have a strong aftertaste. The newer aspartame-free drinks can also be safely consumed by phenylketonurics, because they do not contain phenylalanine. Critics say the taste is not better, merely different, or note that the long-term health risks of all or certain artificial sweeteners is unclear.

The widespread, though not universal, agreement that the newest formulations taste much more "normal" (sugar-like) than the older diet soft drinks have prompted some producers, such as Jones Soda, to abandon the "diet" label entirely in favor of "sugar-free", implying that the taste is good enough to drink even when not trying to lose weight. (This idea was first floated by Diet Coke in 1984, with the tagline, "Just For the Taste of It.")

In 2005, the Coca-Cola Company announced it would produce a sucralose-containing formulation of Diet Coke known as Diet Coke with Splenda, but that it would continue to produce the aspartame version as well. There were also rumors that a sugar-free version of Coca-Cola Classic, also sweetened with sucralose, was being formulated as well. This formulation was eventually called Coca-Cola Zero, though it is sweetened with aspartame in conjunction with acesulfame potassium.


Initially launched in Argentina in 2013, Coca-Cola Life is made with a mix of stevia and sugar as its sweeteners.

Amount of artificial sweeteners in diet soft drinks[edit]

The table below displays milligrams of sweetener in an 8-ounce serving of bottled or canned soft drink as provided by the manufacturers. To determine the amount in a 12-ounce can, multiply these numbers by 1.5. Fountain drinks may contain different sweeteners or different amounts of the same sweeteners.[3][4]

Beverage Saccharin (mg) Aspartame (mg) Acesulfame K (mg) Sucralose (mg)
Diet Coke 0 125 125
0 0
Diet Coke, caffeine free 0 125 125
0 0
Diet Coke with Splenda 0 0 30 30
40 40
Coke Zero 0 58 58
31 31
Diet Pepsi[4] 0 111 111
7 7
Caffeine Free Diet Pepsi[4] 0 118 118
0 0
Diet Pepsi Lime[4] 0 83 83
21 21
Diet Pepsi Vanilla[4] 0 83 83
21 21
Pepsi One[4] 0 0 30 30
40 40
Pepsi Max[4] 0 77 77
20 20
Pepsi Next[4] 0 0 7 7
17 17
Diet Dr. Pepper 0 123 123
0 0
Diet Mountain Dew 0 57 57
18 18
18 18
Sprite Zero 0 50 50
34 34
Fresca 0 50 50
34 34
Tab 64 64
19 19
0 0
Barq’s Diet Root Beer 0 66 66
41 41

Health concerns[edit]

Many consumers are concerned about possible health effects of sugar substitutes and caffeine overuse.[5][6] The effectiveness of diet soft drinks as a weight loss tool has also been called into question.

Changing the food energy intake from one food will not necessarily change a person's overall food energy intake or cause a person to lose weight. One study[7] at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, reported by Sharon Fowler at the ADA annual meeting, actually suggested the opposite, where consumption of diet drinks correlated with weight gain. While Fowler did suggest that the undelivered expected calories from diet drinks may stimulate the appetite, the correlation does not prove that consumption of diet drinks caused the weight gain. The ADA has yet to issue an updated policy concerning diet drinks.

In an independent study by researchers with the Framingham Heart Study in Massachusetts, consumption of any kind of soft drink correlated with increased incidence of metabolic syndrome. Of the 9,000 males and females studied, these drinkers were at 48% higher risk for metabolic syndrome, which involves weight gain and elevated blood sugar. No significant difference in these findings was observed between sugary and diet soft drinks. The researchers surmised that diet drinkers were less likely to consume healthy foods, and that drinking diet beverages flavored with artificial sweeteners more than likely increases cravings for sugar-flavored sweets.[8]


In countries outside of the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, the term "light" is often used instead of "diet"; sometimes, even in countries that do not speak English, the word "light" in English is used (e.g., "Coca-Cola Light" in Spain).[9] The formulation of these is slightly different than the "diet"-named versions and thus the taste is slightly different.

Reduced-calorie drinks[edit]

In an effort to profit on the surging popularity of low-carbohydrate diets, Coca-Cola and Pepsico both released reduced-calorie versions of their flagship colas in 2004. The products contain approximately half the sugar of the regular versions. The Pepsi variant, Pepsi Edge, is sweetened with sucralose and corn syrup. The sweetening of the Coca-Cola variant, Coca-Cola C2, is a combination of corn syrup, aspartame, acesulfame potassium and sucralose. Pepsi discontinued Edge in 2005, citing lackluster sales. Coca-Cola soon followed suit. Pepsi then released Pepsi Max in 2012.

Half of the sugar of a can of regular cola still exceeds the daily sugar allowance of some popular low-carbohydrate diets. It is possible that these soft drinks were targeted to so-called "carb-conscious consumers", who are paying attention to their carbohydrate intake but not trying to drastically reduce it.


According to a study by the National Center for Health Statistics, about one-fifth of the U.S. population ages 2 years and over consumed diet drinks on a given day in 2009‒2010, and 11% consumed 16 fluid oz. of diet drinks or more. Overall, the percentage consuming diet drinks was higher among females compared with males. The percentage consuming diet drinks was similar for females and males at all ages except among 12- to 19-year-olds, where a higher percentage of females than males consumed diet drinks. A higher percentage of non-Hispanic white persons consumed diet drinks compared with non-Hispanic black and Hispanic persons. The study included calorie-free and low-calorie versions of soft drinks, fruit drinks, energy drinks, sports drinks, and carbonated water.[10]

See also[edit]