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Diet sodas (also diet pop, diet, sugar-free, or light soft drinks, refreshments, or carbonated beverages) are typically sugar-free, artificially sweetened, non-alcoholic carbonated beverages generally marketed towards health-conscious people, diabetics, athletes, and other people who want to lose weight or stay fit.


Different artificial sweeteners are used instead of sugar to give diet soda a sweet taste and some are often used simultaneously. Opinion is mixed as to the taste of these beverages: some think they lack the taste of their sugar-sweetened counterparts, others think the taste is similar. Some also note an unusual non-sugary aftertaste. Some feel the opposite—that diet soda has no aftertaste and that soda sweetened by high fructose corn syrup has a gritty, over-sweet aftertaste.


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 soda were cyclamates (often synergistically with saccharin). While many say these cyclamate-sweetened soda had a more pleasant taste than the diet soda that followed them, in 1970 the Food and Drug Administration banned cyclamates in the United Statesmarker on evidence that they caused cancer in lab rats. Cyclamates are still used in many countries around the world, including for diet soda.


Once cyclamates were banned, American producers turned to saccharin. Saccharin alone was often criticized for having a bitter taste and "chemical" aftertaste. Some manufacturers, such as Coca-Cola with 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 soda production had shifted to using aspartame. Perhaps the most notable holdout is Tab, which nevertheless also uses some aspartame in its formula.

Sucralose and acesulfame potassium; "sugar-free" sodas

Recently two other sweeteners, sucralose (marketed as Splenda) and Acesulfame potassium ("Sunett" or "Ace K" (the K is the chemical symbol for potassium) which is usually used in conjunction with aspartame, sucralose, or saccharin rather than alone) have come into growing use, particularly by smaller beverage producers (e.g. Big Red). Diet Rite is the non-aspartame diet soda 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 sodas have prompted some producers, such as Jones Soda, to abandon the "diet" label entirely in favor of "sugar-free soda," implying that the taste is good enough to drink the soda 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 new formulation of Diet Coke sweetened with sucralose, to be called Diet Coke with Splenda, but 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.


The beginning of the diet soda or refreshment era was in 1952, when Kirsch Bottling in Brooklyn, New Yorkmarker launched a sugar free ginger ale called No-Cal. It was designed for diabetics, not dieters, and distribution remained local. Royal Crown Cola placed an announcement in an Atlantamarker newspaper in 1958 announcing a diet soda product, Diet Rite. In 1963, the Coca-Cola Company joined the diet soda 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 soda introduced by Coca-Cola) were the only brand-name diet refreshments on the market until Pepsi released Diet Pepsi in the 1960s (initially as Patio Diet Cola). 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 different 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 soda companies had diversified to include such flavors as vanilla and lemon among their products, and diet sodas 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.

Health concerns

Along with possible health concerns of sugar substitutes and caffeine overuse, the effectiveness of diet soda as a weight loss tool should also be considered.

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, 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 soda was correlated with weight gain. While Fowler did suggest that the undelivered expected calories from diet soda may stimulate the appetite, the correlation does not prove that consumption of diet soda caused the weight gain. The ADA has yet to issue an updated policy concerning diet soda.

An independent study by researchers with the Framingham Heart Study in Massachusetts, has turned up results which indicate that the consumption of diet soda correlates with increased metabolic syndrome. Of the 9,000 males and females studied, findings stated that 48% of the subjects were at higher risk for weight gain and elevated blood sugar. The researchers also acknowledged that diet soda drinkers were less likely to consume healthy foods, and that drinking diet soda flavored with artificial sweeteners more than likely increases cravings for sugar flavored sweets.

Individuals who drink excessive amounts of regular soda may experience weight loss if they switch to diet soda.

Animal studies suggest that artificial sweeteners cause body weight gain, theoretically because of a faulty insulin response, at least in cows and rats. Rats given sweeteners have steadily increased caloric intake, increased body weight, and increased adiposity (fatness). Adding saccharin to the food of calves increases their body weight as well.

All artificial sweeteners, especially aspartame, are proven to have health risks. Aspartame has been linked to brain cancer, and it also puts formaldehyde into the consumer's body. Sucralose has been linked to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and migraines. Saccharin has also been linked to bladder cancer.


For cultural reasons, in some countries outside the United Statesmarker and Canadamarker, the term "light" is often used instead of "diet". The word diet in these countries typically refers to the programs given by doctors to patients who need to lose weight, and not as a way to describe food products.

Reduced-calorie soda

In an effort to cash in on the surging popularity of low-carbohydrate diets, in 2004 both Coca-Cola and Pepsico released reduced-calorie versions of their flagship sodas that contain approximately half the sugar of the regular version. 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.In May 2005, Pepsi announced that they will abandon the market by the end of the year, citing lackluster sales. It is rumored that Coke is soon to follow suit.

Half the sugar of a can of regular cola is still more sugar than many people on popular low-carbohydrate diets are permitted to have in a day. It is possible that these sodas are targeted, instead, at so-called "carb-conscious consumers" who are paying attention to, but not trying to drastically reduce, their carbohydrate intake.

Incomplete list of diet soda brands with sweetener(s)

Product Aspartame Sucralose Acesulfame potassium Saccharin Xylitol Erythritol Stevia
7 Up Plus (multiple flavors) Y Y
AriZona Diet Green Tea Y
Blenheim's Diet Ginger Ale Y
Boylan's Diet (multiple flavors) Y Y
Coca-Cola C2 (contains corn syrup) Y Y Y
Coca-Cola Zero Y Y
Cricket Diet Cola Y
Crystal Light (bottles) Y Y
Diet 7 Up Y Y
Diet A&W Root Beer Y Y
Diet Barq's Root Beer Y Y
Diet Big Red Y Y
Diet Black Cherry Vanilla Coke Y Y
Diet Canada Dry Y
Diet Cherry Coke Y Y
Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper Y
Diet Coke Y
Diet Coke with Lemon Y Y
Diet Coke with Lime Y Y
Diet Coke with Splenda Y Y
Diet Dr Pepper Y
Diet Dr Pepper Berries & Cream Y Y
Diet Kist Unknown
Diet Kola Champagne (Puerto Rican soda) Unknown
Diet Lipton Green Tea Y Y
Diet Materva (with mate) Unknown
Diet Mountain Dew Y Y Y
Diet Mug Root Beer Y
Diet Orange Crush (available in Canada) Y
Diet Orange Tropicana Twister Soda Y Y
Diet Pepsi Y
Diet Pepsi Jazz (multiple flavors) Y Y
Diet Pepsi Lime Y Y
Diet Pepsi Vanilla Y Y
Diet RC Cola Y
Diet Red Bull Y Y
Diet Rite (multiple flavors) Y Y
Diet Rockstar Y Y
Diet Safeway Select Unknown
Diet Schweppes Ginger Ale Y
Diet Slice (orange flavor) Unknown
Diet Sprite Zero Y Y
Diet Sunkist Y Y
Diet Vanilla Coke Y Y
Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi Y Y
Dr. Brown's Diet (multiple flavors) Y
Fresca (multiple flavors) Y Y
Hansen's Natural Soda Y Y
Pepsi ONE Y Y
Pepsi Max Y Y
Sierra Mist Free Y Y
Slice ONE (multiple flavors) Y Y
Soda Club (multiple flavors) Y Some
Stewart's Diet Root Beer Y
Sugar Free Full Throttle Y Y Y
Sugar Free Full Throttle Fury Y Y Y
Sugar Free Jones Soda Y Some
Sugar Free Mountain Dew MDX Y Y Y
Tab Y Y
Vault Zero Y Y
Virgil's Diet (multiple flavors) Y Y
Zevia (multiple flavors) Y Y


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