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?