AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Is Diet Soda a Scam?

If you are like me and your favorite drink is Diet Coke, then you are no stranger to the people around judging your choice and claiming that you are drinking chemicals. “It’s just as bad as the real thing,” they all say. I genuinely think the diet and regular versions of soda taste different, and when it comes to Coke, I just prefer the diet version. However, some people drink it as an alternative to the high levels of sugar in regular sodas.

Recently, studies have come out to prove that the sugar substitutes in diet sodas are just as bad for you as the cane sugar in regular soda. So, is the impression that Diet Coke is healthier than regular Coke a scam?

Drink it in a Coke

First, you need to understand what mimics the sweetness of regular sodas in diet ones. The chemicals that people are referring to are the sweeteners used in replacement of the almost 40g of sugar in a regular coke. The main sweetener is aspartame, which is a dipeptide composed of two amino acids; phenylalanine and aspartic acid. The other is acesulfamm potassium. Acesulfame Potassium, also known as Ace-K, is a potassium salt that is roughly 200 times sweeter than sucrose. Both of these sugar substitutes are synthetic products.

So, are these sugar substitutes better or the same as the real thing?

In a study done by the Research Ethics Committee of the Federal University of São Paulo, 15 healthy participants participated in a blindfolded trial including a Diet soft drink, Regular soft drink, water with sweeteners, water with a low sucrose content, and regular water, in 5 days. The goal of the experiment was to study the aspartame excretion in saliva and the salivary insulin, in response to the ingestion of the beverages. Each day, their saliva was collected when fasted, 15, 30, 60, and 120 minutes after drink intake, to check for the levels of salivary aspartame and insulin levels. The researchers found that insulin levels increased 1 hour after both regular and soft drink digestion. Therefore, the study found that although diet soda is sugar and calorie free, it still influences insulin levels, like regular sodas. So, by avoiding the regular version of a soft drink, you are not avoiding the insulin spike. However, the research only included a 15 participants, so an experiment with a larger sample size would need to be conducted to reach a final conclusion. But, the idea that “no sugar” soft drinks are that much healthier than the real thing, isn’t exactly true.

This connects to what we have been learning in AP Bio because we learned about insulin and glucose levels and how they maintain homeostasis in our bodies. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that regulates blood glucose levels. Insulin helps blood sugar enter the cells of our body so it can be used for energy along with sending signals to the liver in order to store glucose for later use. However, when insulin levels rise too high, it can cause the cells in our bodies to absorb too much glucose from the blood, and the liver to release less glucose. This causes dangerously low glucose levels in the blood. If this becomes chronic, and there is constantly high insulin levels, it can lead to prediabetes and Type 2 Diabetes.

Do you still think your diet soda is better for you than the regular one, or will you opt for a regular coke next time?





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  1. Sandovalosome

    Hi Nucliyatide! Your post caught my attention because I have recently started drinking more Diet Coke. I choose to drink the diet version because of its taste, but mainly because it has no calories. I was already aware of the use of aspertame to sweeten the drink; however, I had no idea about the rise of insulin levels and find the experiment to be very interesting.
    I love the way that you connected the homeostasis unit in AP Bio to your article; it clearly relates and explains the hormones in the feedback loop.
    Although I am now aware that Aspertame increases insulin levels, I still have confusion as to how it does. This article (,activity%20due%20to%20insulin%20resistance.) explains why the levels increase. It taught me that the body confuses insulin for glucose because of the sweet taste of the aspertame. This then increases the levels of insulin in the blood.

  2. benzyme

    Hi Nucliyatide,
    thank you for sharing your research on this topic of diet vs regular coke. While my dad has always had diet coke, believing it to be healthier, I have always insisted the chemicals were worse. Thank you for enlightening me on what chemicals those are, namely aspartame. Also, thank you Ariatom for diving further into aspartame and further begging the question of whether aspartame has different effects on the human body than typical cane sugar. I have found that aspartame is different since it about 200 times sweeter than cane sugar and therefore can be used in a much smaller quantity. Additionally, I have found that, in general, aspartame has shown a lesser effect on blood sugar levels than cane sugar, although the small study you mentioned doesn’t necessarily agree. That said, the research I found mentions aspartame to be potentially cancerous. Overall, it seems to me the research is unfinished and thus ongoing in regard to aspartame.

    Link to the source I used for information in this comment:

  3. ariatom

    Hi Nucliyatide! Thank you for sharing light on this myth! I used to be someone who never wanted to drink Diet Coke because I thought the chemicals were terrible for my health and your research enlightened me to the truth. In response to your question, I think I will still choose regular Coke due to my taste preferences. However, your article made me question where the myth came from? According to the link I posted below, aspartame got its bad reputation from being associated with headaches, convulsions, and depression. Aspartame is transformed into phenylalanine (Phy), aspartic acid, and methanol, which can affect the neurochemical state of the brain and influence the level of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine contribute to a person’s mood, learning, motor activity, sleep, etc. I find aspartame’s bad reputation confusing, considering its similar effects on the human body as sugar.

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