Which is Better for Me: Coke or Diet Coke?

The obvious answer is: neither. Drink water. Drink tea. Yadda yadda…

For most people that answer is not good enough. They aren’t going to make the switch to water, at least not completely. They need their fizzy sweetness. Yes, they know better. And yet…

They want to choose the lesser of 2 evils.

So what shall it be?

A soft drink loaded with sugars (high fructose corn syrup) OR the chemicals in a diet drink?

What you need to know:

To answer the question, let’s start with the basics. Here’s the ingredient list for Coke:

Carbonated Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Caramel Color, Phosphoric Acid, Natural Flavors, Caffeine.

One serving – an 8 ounce cup – has 100 calories, all from the 26 grams of sugar  (6.5 teaspoons). Liquid candy.

Here’s Diet Coke’s ingredient list (we’ve underlined ingredients shared with regular Coke):

Carbonated Water, Caramel Color, Aspartame, Phosphoric Acid, Potassium Benzoate (to Protect Taste), Natural Flavors, Citric Acid, Caffeine.

Diet Coke has zero calories thanks to the magic of aspartame, an artificial sweetener that has been linked in some (but not the majority of) studies to various cancers and neurological problems.

An additional ingredient of questionable benefit is potassium benzoate, closely related to sodium benzoate which Coke had been using until 2 years ago.

Both sodas contain phosphoric acid, that may contribute to the leaching of calcium from bones and osteoporosis.

Both sodas contain caramel color, which is a natural food coloring, and caffeine, which is a natural upper. The natural flavors they both contain include Coke’s secret formula, responsible for the Coke taste.

OK, we’ve gone through the nutrition panel. Now, which is better for me?

Had artificial sweeteners been found 100% safe, without any side effects, the answer would be Diet Coke, which saves us 100 calories per cup.

However, as we recently wrote, research by Harvard researcher David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD suggests that

  1. The human body body gets confused by artificial sweeteners to the point of impeding weight loss plans
  2. Diet drinks “Infantilize” the taste sense to the point where naturally sweet foods like apples don’t seem seem sweet enough
  3. Long term health effects unclear.

Self professed Diet Coke junkie and nutrition expert Elisa Zied, MS, RD writes:

Emerging research … suggests links between increased diet soda intake and metabolic syndrome (a cluster of symptoms that increase the risk for heart disease), kidney problems, preterm delivery, weaker bones, and other adverse health effects. read more..

So, there is no 100% guarantee that sweet tasting diet drinks are safe and can be part of a healthy diet.

What to do at the supermarket:

OK, you’ve been patient and read through all this post. Here’s the bottom line (at least ours):

If you are a healthy adult but trying to keep the pounds off, 2 to 3 cups of regular soda per week, counted as a treat, won’t put a huge dent in your calorie balance. If you drink substantially more soft drinks, try to cut down. If you can’t reduce the amount consumed, consider diet soda.

If you are a healthy adult but actively on a diet – really, do yourself a favor and hydrate with water only. Having said that, diet soda can fill a void for your sweet cravings, without affecting your calorie count. Remember that diet drinks may actually be counterproductive due to the infantalized taste buds explained above. And the cancer stuff too.

If you are a parent to a growing child – keep them away from artificially sweetened drinks. The younger they are, the easier it will be to move them to a mostly water routine. For example – at home water is the only beverage.

If you are diabetic, pre-diabetic, or have another medical conditions - soft drinks are one of the first things you should eliminate from your diet. But you have much more on your “plate” than just this matter. Your best bet is to consult with a registered dietitian.

Lastly, we reiterate our usual advice – skip the soft drink aisle and eliminate soda pop of any kind from your hydration routine . It’s the healthiest choice for your body, the planet, and your pocketbook. We admit, this advice is beginning to sound like a broken record…

Hope this makes some sense. Feel free to chime in with your thoughts.

Get Fooducated

  • http://www.feedyourheaddiet.com Ken Leebow

    I recommend:

    1. As an alternative, try club soda. It provides the carbonation without the sugar and chemicals.

    2.Visualize how much sugar you are putting in your body annually with 1 sugared soda per day … http://bit.ly/awEpYV – It’s astonishing!

  • http://www.allaboutmollie.blogspot.com Sarah King

    Sparkling water (unflavored or flavored without aspartame) or unsweetened iced or hot tea really fill the gap for me. I almost never had soda at home anyway, but when out at a restaurant I was always tempted. I decided to start ordering tea or sparkling water and discovered I don’t miss the soda!

  • Katie @ Healthnut Foodie

    Our family loves “bubble water” (sparkling water). We add a squeeze of immunity boosting lime and enjoy it as a “treat” together almost daily. Without it, I never would have been able to give up the Diet Coke habit!

  • Bill

    If you are going to have a treat have the real thing.

    I used to drink one diet or real soda at lunch every day. Lost five pounds in one week after I stopped. It was probably water weight, but it felt GOOD.

    My wife does the carbonated water as other have suggested (our son calls it “spicy water”), but I stick with tap water or green tea.

  • Dave

    I’ve never liked diet soda much. Its just tastes horrible. However, I used to have a 20 ounce bottle of Coke a day habit. I’m now Coke free for two and a half months. Yes, there were some withdrawl headaches from the caffeine. But now I feel better in the morning, don’t feel like I “need” something, and have lost ten pounds. Just skip the soda, you’re better off without it.

  • Jason

    As a general rule, it’s a good idea to keep calories out of drinks. There’s a saying about chewing your drinks and drinking your food.

    If I had have a soda for a treat, for starters, I’d opt for something with citric acid instead of phosphoric acid, real sugar, no artificial colors/flavors (no “natural flavors” either), and would have it in a small glass bottle.

    Having it this way would ensure it’s just a treat, like in yesteryear where they only came in 8 oz. glass bottles. Any more than that is ridiculous.

  • WilliamB

    Good question, good answer, I like how you created separate categories for your answer. But I had to dig to find the answer to question asked. Next time please consider put your higher-level answer – drink water or tea – up front then focus on the question asked.

    Thank you.

  • An Idle Dad

    In Australia, Coke has sugar cane instead of high fructose corn syrup. Does this make normal coke any *cough* healthier than the US version?

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Editorial Staff

      The scientific consensus is that there is no difference between sugar and hfcs.

  • Jill

    Really… recommending Diet Soda under any circumstances??? WTH? Why give the TRUTH and then give the okay? Sounds like the traditional FDA statement to me. Have we not learned that when any media gives an OK, peole are gonna follow that trap. Cops and Firemen use soda to remove blood stains off the streets from a crime scene.. drink up America!

  • Jill

    You need to do some research editorial staff… that is NOT TRUE @Editorial Staff

  • Anonymous in Germany

    I am curious what the answer would be considering that outside the US, Cocacola has sugar from sugarcane.

    I see now that you all have commented to an Australian poster that “the scientific consensus is that there is no difference between sugar and HFCS” — and that I find curious because HFCS is pretty much banned in the EU… because there IS a difference, and it is a modified ingredient no one wishes to have. I’m quite flabbergasted by your reply and think you need to go back to the drawing board

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Editorial Staff

      @Anonymous in Germany

      In the EU HFCS in NOT banned.
      Known as isoglucose, HFCS is produced in much smaller quantities due to quota systems.

      I personally do not want HFCS in my food because it is indicative of a highly processed food.
      But so far no credible scientific paper has shown a difference in the way HFCS and sugar are metabolized.

  • Jill

    First of all… HFCS is man-made. Genetically Modified to produce more of it at a cheaper cost. That should be the first sign that it cant be processed the same as NATURAL SUGAR. Sounds like editorial staff mite be working for the Corn Refiners Association..
    A study was found that all sugars are not alike. Both fructose and glucose are found in EQUAL meansure in table sugar, but with HFCS… the fructose level is much higher. The fructose in HFCS does not attach to a glucose molecule as it is in table sugar so it is much more easily absorbed into the body…. THERE IS A DIFFERENCE.

  • WilliamB

    @Jill: cane and beet sugars are also man-made. Are you being silly or did you simply make your point badly so that I missed it?

    I’ve been very interested to know if HFCS is, in and of itself, worse for you than sugar or if the problem is that it shows up a lot in highly processed foods. So I was delighted when the Nutrition Action Newsletter (published by the people who brought us “heart attack on a plate”) did a review of studies. It found – rather to it’s surprise, I think – that HFCS is not worse for us than sugar is despite the chemical differences you accurately cite.

  • Corey

    @Jill

    HFCS often found in foods on supermarket shelves is 55% fructose and 45% glucose, as opposed to sucrose’s 50/50 ratio. So the fructose level is not much higher… in fact it is only *High* fructose relative to glucose. And with sucrose, your body has to break it into glucose and fructose anyway before it can use it.

  • Stacey

    This is all fine and good, but when you are a dietitian trying to educate a diabetic in the South to relinquish his grip on Cokes and Sweet Tea, one must take small steps to get there. Sometimes there has to be a “lesser of 2 evils” and that means breaking a habit. If someone has been consuming a case of Cokes, most likely the next step will not be to remove all Coke and if you want to get tight control on BG levels asking a pt to take a small step in reducing intake to half that, still won’t help. I’m not an advocate for large quantities of diet sodas, but I have witnessed better controlled BG in those who consume diet vs regular (and it may be that the pt does not like the diet soda as well and therefore consumes less, who knows). I’m just adding because this controversy often involves those “crazy” dietitians out there who ask their patients to switch from reg to diet when we actually have method to our “madness”.

  • Sarabell

    Aspartame has over 100 studies proving that they are safe. Most studies proving otherwise <.01% had found that excessive amounts (equivalent of 800 diet cokes a day) can cause said neurological effects. The SUGAR INDUSTRY who is currently trying to convince you that high fructose corn syrup is anything other than sugar and is actually good for you has lobbied these studies for years. Diet coke is safe. What it does do is piss your brain off (figuratively). Meaning you said it could have sugar now it wants sugar, actually increasing your appetite and most likely leading you to consume more calories later.

    Real coke has high fructose corn syrup in it (which the sugar industry is trying to tell you is good?), which is just sugar in the long run, excessive amounts of sugar will cause your body to convert the extra energy to fat. Also because it is so sugary it can cause tooth decay. It is interesting to hear about a "new study" on the internet saying that diet coke can give you Alzheimer's or cancer, or cause strokes, but the consensus is that its safe.
    I don't really think that high fructose corn syrup is any worse than you than just normal sucrose table sugar, but if you drink or eat a lot of either one, the end result is pretty much the same.
    OVERALL. They are both shit. Pick your poison.

    • Eric Strodthoff

      The sugar is not the big problem as far as tooth dacay. It is helped along by the acids witch will weaken the enamel and give the sugar a better foot hold.

  • Jill

    @Sarabell
    I dont know what studies you are reading studies by the Cocoa Cola industry?…You have got to be kiding me.. you can’t be serious. Diet Coke safe??? Do you know what Aspartame is? Years ago the FDA denied aspartame into the food stream.. somehow it was” re-named” (as most GMO’s are).. now they are renaming it to Suclarose.. saying it is “safer” Just as Spelnda contains ACID.. yeah safe. These CHEMICALS contain acid and literally suck the fluid from your spine… SAFE? Keep reading….

    • Alaskapunk1

      I PITY YOU JILL I DO UNDERSTAND THAT YOU ARE TRYING TO TELL THEM THE TRUTH, BUT THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NOO NEED TO ATTACK ANYBODY AND CALL THEM IDIOTS

    • BB

      I’m no expert like you claim to be Jill but FDA officials describe aspartame as “one of the most thoroughly tested
      and studied food additives the agency has ever approved” and its safety
      as “clear cut”.  I’m sorry but I believe the FDA over some Jill posting on a website.

    • blah

      You have no idea what you are talking about. The two sugar substitutes are not the same at all. splenda takes sugar and substitutes 3 molecules of hydro carbons with three chlorine molecules. Aspartame is different all together. the FDA had a problem with Aspartame at one point because of a study with rats. When the FDA looked further into the finding as well as other scientist they found the study to be unrealistic and lacking in proof of causation. A human being would die if they consumed the unrealistic amounts of aspartame the poor rats were given, the same would be true if it were plain water, apples or whatever.

  • Jill

    @WilliamB
    your not worth my time to converse with.. there is cynical and then just plain ignorant..

  • Brooke

    @Jill

    Really? You’re (yes, correct usage) accusing others of ignorance?? How about the fact that the VAST majority of foods we consume are ACIDIC. Citric acid comes to mind, acetic acid also . . . Quick! Everyone save your spine from oranges and pickles!

    Also, Splenda is sucralose, asparatame is not being renamed. Perhaps replacing a lot of uses where asparatame once was, but not renamed.

    But at least I got a good laugh. . .

  • jill

    @Brooke
    You and william make a good team. I pity ur inability to just look at the bigger picture as to why DC is so bad for u. Instead u must b ignorant to the facts and only criticize. Im thinkin u probably are drinking down a DC while ordering a supersized cheeseburger. Im full aware of what each chemically enhanced “sugar” is made of..oart of it being acid that doesnt come from citrus o wise one.

  • E

    All soda is garbage.

  • linzi

    i read your article 3 days ago. i drank 3 litres of full fat coke a day, i then switched to diet for a month and didnt lose a pound. so then went back on to regular coke, which i prefer. your article explains why i didnt lose any weight. i am now only drinking flavoured water, i know plain water is better but its something iv never been able to drink on its own. day 2 now iv had really bad heads from the lack of caffeiene, but im going to stick at it. its worth it in the long run. i seriously think the government should ban it. it is very addictive and i crave it constantly.

    • Mkelo

      Neither “real” Coke or Diet Coke contains fat. The calories in “the real thing” come from the sugar/high fructose corn syrup.

    • Guest

      I stopped drinking soda a few years ago at first I craved it but the cravings went away. Now I just have soda every once in awhile.

  • Carrie

    I haven’t had a soda in over 2 years!!! My boyfriend was the one who though it turn offy to drink it so I stopped plus I look better no acne like most people my age besides wine is good! better the soda!

  • http://msn mike

    can i have soda i a11 years old

    • Alaskapunk1

      YES IT WONT HURT YOU THAT MUCH IF YOU JUST HAVE ONE…BUT DONT MAKE IT A HABIT, SODA IS NOT GOOD FOR YOU

    • Alaskapunk1

      YES IT WONT HURT YOU THAT MUCH IF YOU JUST HAVE ONE…BUT DONT MAKE IT A HABIT, SODA IS NOT GOOD FOR YOU

  • http://www.lapbandbearlake.com/ Emilia Pickrell

    Well, there’s nothing wrong in drinking sodas for sometimes. These may also give you energy, but you should know your limitation about drinking that beverage. Also, you have to practice proper oral hygiene to wash away germs and debris that may cause dental problems. And engage in exercises or any outdoor sports so you can burn calories, too.

     

  • Jubug Js

    Neither are good for you diet coke eats your stomach though I have seen it happen

  • Lawyer man

    I am substituting plain carbonated water, I love it. Is it safe? Lawyer man

  • Alaskapunk1

    so what does this article really mean? im getting confused with these big words. so here is my ultimate question. which is better? COKE OR DIET COKE?

    • Sheiladtravis

      I agree they didn’t answer the question

      • Steve Bergman

        The article cherry-picks research and quotes and puts an unrealistically negative spin on the diet drink. The simple answer is *avoid sugared soft drinks*, drink the diet versions, and don’t worry. The irrational fears of artificial sweeteners you see on the Internet are just that. Unfounded and irrational.

  • Alaskapunk1

    so what does this article really mean? im getting confused with these big words. so here is my ultimate question. which is better? COKE OR DIET COKE?

  • Grg610

    Sucrolos taste a lot better than aspartame. If I drink to much aspartame I will have a very bad reaction to it. I hate the stuff.

  • Sandra

    I agree and yet I tried to go cold turkey off coke, and for 2 weeks I was doing it and with a daily headache, itritability, feeling anxious, depressive thougths, and while I am not sure if withdrawal from a daily intake of soda( I have a problem…were talking 4-6 12 oz regilar cokes a day…would feel anxious and short tempered without my morning fix. Because I dont have a weight problem, its easier to get away with this, but its like a drug. I caved by week 3. Its a seripus addiction that hurts physically to stop.

  • Alexis

    So from what I get is Coke is better of the two evils because it doesn’t have the chemicals of Dt Coke. But if your on a diet don’t drink Coke because it has high calories.

  • Karuna

    I used to clean toilet and coints also is great to clean the poles on the battery of my car, and great to clran asphalt or sidewals yum…

  • Meagh

    I think they completely answered the question. There is no point blank answer because each person is individual. However for me, this article told me since I only drink 2-3 sodas a week, I should stick with regular.
    Very interesting, thank you Fooducate.

  • Natalie

    Natalie

  • Sweetener

    If only the mirror image of glucose wasn’t so expensive to make, we might not have the whole artificial sweetener problem…

  • g money

    I was drinking one soda a day and was having stomach cramps constantly so I put my mind to quitting and 8 months later still no stomach cramps

  • Djarn Nicholas

    you are an idiot, aspartame has absolutely no link to cancer, you’ve obviously got your info from bad sources. Sugar companies WANT you to think that it’s bad because it means less sale of sugar. Aspartame is actually “Aspartame is a methyl ester of the dipeptide of the natural amino acids L-aspartic acid and L-phenylalanine.” amino acid = good.