Well for one, it’s diet soda

During one of my sporadic comment rescues, I came across the following query from North (sorry it took so long to find it, amigo):

Russell on the subject of possibly krank products, though possibly this is only loosely related, could I get your opinion on diet pop? Specifically Coke Zero.
I never drank much pop because while I enjoyed the flavor my body would respond to the beverage by flashing into such a heated state that I felt like I was cooking in my own sweat sodden clothes (fruit juices do this to me as well to a much lesser degree).
Anyhow, long story short I tripped across coke zero one day after the gym and A) the flavor really hits the spot and B) no biological heat explosions. The label says it’s zero calori so I assumed it’s some cunning aspartame combo or a sweet salt or something (oddly I find Diet coke nasty tasting, God(ess) help me have I been branded??).

I assume from the content of his question that North is asking about diet soda.  I’m not familiar with this thing called “pop,” but can assure you just from the sound of it that it’s something no right-thinking person would consume.

As to the actual question, I am not a big fan of diet soda or other diet beverages.  This has more to do with a gut-level hunch that they’re probably not good for you than with any hard scientific evidence.  I did a quick scan of the studies that pop up when I entered “artificial sweetener” in the Cochrane Library search bar [unfortunately, I don’t think the abstracts are available if you don’t access the site from a subscription portal], and many of them seem to contradict the idea that artificial sweeteners have an effect on blood sugar, insulin levels or satiety peptides (which make you feel full).  It seems clear that it’s far from a settled question if diet soda has an unhealthy effect on the endocrine system.

That said, I have a Michael Pollan-esque view about what people should consume.  (As for Pollan himself, I find his writing generally interesting and compelling, but he tends not to acknowledge the tremendous privilege that he enjoys, and which allows him to eat the way he does.)  I just don’t think people should eat things that aren’t food, at least not with any regularity.  And artificial sweeteners aren’t food.  This opinion applies both to things that are “bad” for you, like additives and preservatives and the like, and things that are supposedly “good” for you, like a lot of vitamin supplements.  We seem to have a mania for finding something that appears to make people healthier (like red wine), then yanking the purported miracle ingredient out of its biological context and making it into a supplement, assuming the chemical alone will confer the same benefit.  Turns out that this isn’t always the case.  What’s good for you if you consume it as part of an almond may not actually be good for you if you take a bunch of it as a pill.

Circling back to the main question, as with almost anything people eat or drink, diet soda is probably just fine if you drink it moderately.  If you suck down a case of it every two days, it’s probably not good for you.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. I grew up in Michigan (points to somewhere between lifeline and base of thumb: “Here”) and we moved to New York when I was in 8th grade.

    Our first night there, we went out to eat and asked the waitress “what kind of pop do you have?” and she answered “WHERE ARE YOU GUYS FROM??? PITTSBURGH????”

    She then gave us a brief tutorial on how not to sound like Steelers fans around cultured people. I will be forever grateful.

    • Jaybird, do you notice a difference in Colorado. I grew up in Colorado (Denver, but alas, I live in Chicago now), and I swear, I don’t remember a regional preference for “pop” over “soda,” or vice versa. But maybe I just wasn’t paying attention?

  2. This diet soda Sans Soda is really good and it sweetened with Stevia, the rebiana plant extract. Not artificial at all.

  3. Diet Coke==New Coke without the sugar (yet people still love it, but hated new coke).
    Coke Zero is the original coke without the sugar.

      • yeah, they rolled out new coke at the same time they rolled out diet coke. same supply line, more or less…

        • It’s funny that New Coke did so phenomenally well in taste tests. If they’d just called it Big C or something, it probably would have been fine.

          I’m not positive, but I think Diet Coke and Coke Zero use different combinations of sweeteners.

          Personally, I miss C2.

          • Malcolm Gladwell talked about those taste tests (and the Pepsi Challenge) in Blink. His assertion was that taste tests are biased in favor of the sweeter first sip, but people’s overall enjoyment will depend on the whole can experience. What tastes good in a sip or two can become too much for a full 12 ounces.

          • Cherry Chocolate Doctor Pepper is an excellent example.

            The first sip was a delight and we said “THIS IS THE CULMINATION OF HUMAN EVOLUTION”. By the time we got to the end of the can, Maribou asked me if I could take the remainder of the 12-pack to work so she wouldn’t have to look at it.

          • It’s worth noting that the transition to corn syrup was already well-underway five years before New Coke was introduced.

            The difference in taste is interesting. Sugar makes Pepsi taste better, but Mountain Dew taste worse. Dr Pepper tastes different, but not really better or worse (I’m not a fan since a DrP/Schnopps incident in the 90’s). I don’t notice much difference when it comes to Coca-Cola, but the Mexican bottles are cool.

            From what I understand Mexico is making the transition to corn syrup as well.

        • The point is that they also switched from cane sugar to corn syrup as the “regular” sweetener. That’s why they brought out New Coke; the whole kerfluffle disguised the fact that Coke Classic didn’t taste like it used to either. “Mexican Coke” is flavored with cane sugar and tastes different than the Coca-Cola they bottle in America, even though it’s the same combination of flavorings.

          • I love mexican cocacola. I also love carribean cocacola.

            Who here loves southern cocacola? it’s markedly sweeter, ya know.

  4. I do not know any soda that tastes better than iced (better than Lipton) tea. If that’s also bad for you, I’ll ask The Good Doctor to keep it to himself.

      • Water is the staple, but I loathe loathe LOATHE exercising and am always in search of harmless ways of rewarding myself for continuing to do so (3 times a week for 12 years now and counting). Since North’s subconscious gets jaded easily and seems to have a soft spot for Coke Zero you can understand the utility I find in the product (so long as it’s not poison).

        Consumption wise I think it amounts to 2-3 litre’s a week.

      • As I’ve grown older, I like water a lot more. I used to guzzle soda (non-diet, usually pepsi or doctor pepper) by about 4 or 5 cans a day. I used to work fast food (for about 6 years), and drank it like water.

        Now, I can hardly drink any soda. I still like the flavor of pepsi and dp (and some others), but when I’m done with a can or a glass, I need to drink 2 or 3 glasses of water to wash it down.

  5. Boy, you really did leave Missouri behind, didn’t you? Soda is for yankees and pop is for farmers. Being from the south, it’s all coke to me.

    Regarding diet coke, I’ve read at least one study from Purdue that suggest that artificial sweeteners in general can mess with your satiety and make you want to eat more. The same thing that tricks your body into thinking it has had sugar makes you want sugar, or something to that effect.

    Coke Zero is remarkably good for a diet drink. I barely understand why Diet Coke (capital-D, capital-C, as to differentiate it from diet coke drinks like Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, and Diet Big K) still exists.

    • The data seem to be all over the place on the question of satiety, insulin levels, etc. There are some studies that raise concern and others that seem to mitigate it.

      At least in my part of Missouri, we called it soda.

      And, to quote the late, great Bloom County, almost all soda (certainly cola) tastes like malted battery acid to me.

      • Mmmmh. Battery acid. Yum.

        Next time you run across one of the mitigating studies, I’d appreciate it if you would pass it along.

        I have personally tried switching to diet on numerous occasions. For some reason, it never quite sticks. And I would end up eating more (which may be a result of the satiety issue, could be the lost calories from regular coke, or could be because going diet with soft drinks often coincided with attempts to eat less that backfired).

          • Wait a second. You’re wife is a doctor, right? Surely she should have access through the hospital where she works. This citation speaks to the question:
            Effects of carbohydrate sugars and artificial sweeteners on appetite and the secretion of gastrointestinal satiety peptides.
            Steinert RE, Frey F, Töpfer A, Drewe J, Beglinger C

          • I meant to ask about that, whether she would be able to have access to some of this stuff. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen her (conscious) in three days. But this will give me the info to ask her about when I do. Thanks!

        • If the good doctor provides full citations, I have access to just about everything and I am willing to provide them for educational use only.

          Dissemination of copyrighted materials is still covered under Fair Use.

  6. My wife, being from Texas, often calls carbonated beverages “coke” even if they’re Sprite or Pepsi or Doctor Pepper.


    Saying “you shouldn’t eat things that aren’t food” is rather a privileged position, because there are some people (like me) whose bodies lack the ability to automatically process sugars. Do we just never get to experience the taste of sweetness?


    If you depend on your body’s feeling of “fullness” to regulate your eating, then you’ll probably end up fat, because people get used to anything. What feels “full” at one meal will, eventually, become “normal”, meaning that you’ll eat more to feel “full”.

    Portion control and exercise. “Oh but I can’t control myself, I’ve tried and I just caaaaaan’t!” That’s what celery is for.

    • It’s easier to control portion sizes when you aren’t super hungry. It’s easier to make good decisions (including dietary ones) when you aren’t super hungry.

      • Never go to the grocery store when you’re hungry. Every time I do, my shopping cart magically fills up with cookies and chips.

  7. Actually, all of The Cochrane Library abstracts are available for free. You only need a subscription if you want to download the full review 🙂

      • They do that in Saskatchewan as well. When the other option is “whisky, straight up”, it makes sense.

        In different parts of the country, the other option is milk from a bag or spruce beer or something. It makes more sense for “pop” there.

      • East as in Nova Scotia. Any further east and I’d be a Newfie (or English). But I’ve transplanted to Minnesota in the last decade (or Canada South as I like to call it).

          • I think Canada could rightfully demand Wisconsin and Alaska as well as Minnesota on that deal. There is a -lot- of oil in Alberta. The Wisconsinites and Minnesotans would get along well with their new Canadian overlords and the Alaskans would fit in fine with the Yukon (hell we could amalgamate Alaska and the Yukon into a credible province).

          • No dice Burt. Saskatchewan is crammed to the hilt with rare earths, water and no small amount of oil. It wouldn’t even be close. And BC for Wisconsin? Hell, I don’t think there’s anything Canadians would be willing to let go of BC for.

          • Oh, c’mon. BC is only barely Canadian to begin with. Last time I was there, it felt mostly like Washington (Ontario did *not* feel like anywhere in the US). It’s a natural fit!

            Love Alberta as much as we do, I think it would take more than that to depart with both Alaska and Wisconsin. What about Michigan? It’s a fixer-upper, but there’s some potential there under new leadership.

          • Michigan?? You’d want us to take both Detroit and the yoopers? That’s more than a fixer up; I’d say you’d probably have to pay us! I’d be run out of the imaginary Ottawa I rule from in my head if I agreed to that one.

            BC is a lot like Washington… or to put it more aptly Washington is a lot like BC. Heck, I’ll make ya a deal though it’s cuttin me own throat. You can keep Alaska or Wisconsin and we’ll take Washington instead. They’d fit into Canada like a glove.

          • Remember how Seward’s Folly turned out?

            Imagine all of the pride you could take in turning that state around!

            You (by which I mean the imaginery leader of Canada) could shove it in our face for years and years.

          • Michigan?? You’d want us to take both Detroit and the yoopers?
            Yeah, but you could finally get the new Detroit-Windsor bridge built.

            we’ll take Washington instead.
            You could even get a cash bonus from Oregonians for that.

  8. So in summary then putting away 3 litres a week (99 fluid ounces roughly) should probably not be a big deal? I drink pretty much nothing but water otherwise (well cocktails don’t count).

  9. North, Forgotten in all of this is what do they call Pop in Boston/Greater Boston/New England? TONIC!!! It sounded extremely medicinal when I first heard that word and didn’t touch it for weeks–they also call milk shakes, Frappes and dinner means lunch and supper means dinner. And there are many, many other Bostonisms. Smoots and the Charles River Bridge?

    • They call stuff like 7-UP and Coca Cola “tonic?” I’ve only ever heard the word used to refer to the unsweetened carbonated water used for making mixed drinks. But then, I’ve spent a grand total of three days in Boston.

    • It’s new to me Franz, it’s always been called soda in Nova Scotia (as in a Gin and Soda) but I’m far from a booze expert for Eastern Canada. I moved south to Minneapolis when I was 19.

  10. Are you familiar withthe food reward hypothesis of obesity? The basic idea is that there are certain flavors, among them sweetness, that stimulate the brain’s reward center. In susceptible individuals, doing this will overstimulate the appetite, leading to overeating and obesity.

    This could explain why artificial sweeteners cause weight gain. It’s not that the specific chemical makeup of the sweeteners is problematic; it’s that the sweetness itself overstimulates the appetite.

Comments are closed.