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Diet Soda Sales are Surging—Here are the Worst for You

The most popular weight-loss product in America is scientifically proven to make you fatter.

Diet Soda Sales are Surging—Here are the Worst for You

Diet Soda Sales are Surging—Here are the Worst for You

The most popular weight-loss product in America is scientifically proven to make you fatter.

Although we’re familiar with the ill effects of artificial sweeteners, a 2018 study recently shed light on the frightening link between zero-calorie artificial sweeteners to diabetes and obesity. And to make matters worse, another study revealed that daily diet soda drinkers grow about two-and-a-half more inches of belly fat each decade than those who don’t drink the stuff.

And despite the stark news, Bloomberg reports that Coca-Cola sales have been experiencing a major boost thanks to the Diet Coke and Coca-Cola Zero Sugar markets. In fact, analysts tie the soda giant’s debut of the millennial-driven flavored Diet Coke cans to the recent sales surge.

“Diet drinks cause insulin to be released in your gut because their artificial sweeteners are sweet like sugar, and that actually prevents weight loss,” Miriam Jacobson, RD, CDN, told us. “Insulin is your body’s primary fat-storage hormone, so it will have the body hold onto any extra fat.”

Diet sodas also harm the immune system because their acidity causes havoc with our gut bacteria. And the phosphoric acid that’s present in many cans has been shown to leach calcium from our bones.

While every diet soda is bad for you, some are clearly worse than others. The team at Eat This, Not That! took 31 brands into our Food Lab, and pored over the ingredients of the most popular diet sodas in America. Read on to discover where your favorite cola landed—and discover our surprising #1 pick, which might become your new go-to.

How We Ranked Them

Soda glass Shutterstock

First, we measured the amount of artificial sweetener in each soda, paying special attention to aspartame, the most pervasive sweetener. The low-calorie sugar alternative, made by joining two amino acids with an alcohol, is 180 times sweeter than sugar—and the subject of controversy. Some researchers claim to have linked aspartame to brain tumors and lymphoma, but the FDA insists the sweetener is safe for humans. At Eat This, Not That!, we recommend you limit your consumption. And given the public’s interest in limiting their aspartame intake (see Diet Pepsi), we gave demerits to diet sodas with high aspartame counts.

Then, also docked points for high levels of ingredients you wouldn’t expect in your beverage—like vegetable oils and tree bark—and gave high marks to new brands with more natural blends.

And now, without further ado (or should we say, a Dew)…The Top 31 Diet Sodas—Ranked!

Starting With the #1 Worst…

31

Diet Mountain Dew

Diet mountain dew

12 fl oz: 0 calories, 0 g carbs (0 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Concentrated Orange Juice, Citric Acid, Natural Flavors, Citrus Pectin, Potassium Benzoate (Preserves Freshness), Aspartame, Potassium Citrate, Caffeine, Sodium Citrate, Acesulfame Potassium, Sucralose, Gum Arabic, Sodium Benzoate (Preserves Freshness), Calcium Disodium EDTA, Brominated Vegetable Oil, Yellow 5

That soda with the lime-green hue (and other citrus-flavored bubbly pops) won’t keep your insides fireproof, but brominated vegetable oil contains bromine (which is also found in brominated flame retardants). In citrus-flavored soda drinks, BVO acts as an emulsifier. While the ingredient has been banned in foods throughout Europe and in Japan, the FDA allows BVO to be used as a food additive although the agency revoked its Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) status back in 1970. “After a few extreme soda binges—not too far from what many video gamers regularly consume—a few patients have needed medical attention for skin lesions, memory loss, and nerve disorders, all symptoms of overexposure to bromine,” Scientific American reports. Don’t do the Dew: it’s the worst diet soda in the world!

30

TaB

Tab diet soda

12 fl oz: 0 calories, 0 g carbs (0 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Caramel Color, Natural Flavors, Phosphoric Acid, Calcium Saccharin, Potassium Benzoate, Caffeine, Aspartame

Introduced in 1963—for people keeping “tabs” on their weight—Tab was Coke’s first calorie-free soda and the first to draw outcry because of its artificial sweetener. Between 1997 and 2000, the FDA mandated that saccharin-containing products carry a label warning consumers about the risk of cancer, due largely to the development of bladder tumors in saccharin-consuming rate. Saccharin still isn’t in the clear. One recent study funded by Purdue and the National Institute of Health showed that rats with a saccharin-rich diet gained more weight than those with high-sugar diets. Eat This, Not That!’s official stance? Avoid. By the way, sometimes, fat isn’t bad: click here to discover the essential list of the 20 Best Full-Fat Foods for Weight Loss!

29

Fresca Original Citrus

Fresca original citrus sparkling flavored soda

12 fl oz: 0 calories, 1 g carbs (0 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Citric Acid, Concentrated Grapefruit Juice, Potassium Citrate, Aspartame, Potassium Sorbate, Acacia Gum, Acesulfame Potassium, Natural Flavors, Glycerol Ester of Rosin, Potassium Benzoate and Calcium Disodium EDTA, Carob Bean Gum

I don’t know about you, but after a long day of hard work and play, I like to sit back and relax and crack open a can of Glycerol Ester of Rosin. The wood resin is added to many fruit sodas to help the fruit-flavored oils mix better with the water. While it’s not necessarily harmful, let us repeat: you’re drinking oil and water, sold to you by Coke.

28

Coca-Cola Life

Coca cola life soda

12 fl oz: 90 calories, 24 g carbs (24 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Cane Sugar, Caramel Color, Natural Flavors, Phosphoric Acid, Potassium Benzoate, Caffeine, Stevia Leaf Extract

If you think you’re doing yourself a favor by opting for Coca-Cola’s sugar- and stevia-sweetened beverage over the traditional red can, you might want to take a closer look at the nutrition label. Its natural packaging is there to distract you from the cold, hard facts: A 12-ounce can of the stuff contains 24 grams of sugar, which is especially troubling given the recent World Health Organization recommendation to reduce our daily sugar intake to about 25 grams a day to most effectively ward off obesity, heart disease, cancer and diabetes. (A regular can of Coke has 39 grams.) In fact, the green can packs in as much sugar as you’ll get from downing about three Apple ‘n Spice doughnuts from Dunkin’ Donuts!

27

Pepsi True

Pepsi true soda

7.5 fl oz: 60 calories, 17 g carbs (16 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Sugar, Caramel Color, Phosphoric Acid, Natural Flavor, Caffeine, Purified Stevia Leaf Extract

Pepsi’s answer to Coca-Cola Life—also made with pure sugar and Stevia Leaf extract—says it’s “all the fun you love about Pepsi with 30 percent less sugar than regular Pepsi.” Stay “true” to yourself and instead satisfy your craving with one of The 29 Best-Ever Proteins for Weight Loss!

26

Dr. Pepper Ten

Dr pepper ten

12 fl oz: 10 calories, 3 g carbs (2 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Caramel Color, Phosphoric Acid, Aspartame, Sodium Benzoate (preservative), Caffeine, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Acesulfame Potassium, Sodium Phosphate

Only the soda companies could blend two evils—high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners—and market it as a healthier choice. The Ten line does just that. “Both Ten and a zero-calorie brand are bad,” Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, tells Eat This, Not That!, “but for the sake of fewer bad ingredients, the zero-calorie is better.” Dr. Pepper Ten may have just 10 calories per serving, but it also contains sneaky substances such as aspartame, Ace K, and caramel color. To easily burn off any of these sodas—without spending hours in the gym—don’t miss this list of the essential 55 Best-Ever Ways to Speed Up Your Metabolism—Fast!

25

Pepsi Zero Sugar

Pepsi zero sugar

12 fl oz: 0 calories, 0 g carbs (0 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Caramel Color, Phosphoric Acid, Aspartame, Potassium Benzoate (preserves freshness), Caffeine, Natural Flavor, Acesulfame Potassium, Citric Acid, Calcium Disodium EDTA, Panax Ginseng Root Extract

Is your 7-11 sold out of Coke Zero Sugar? Try this wannabe, which adds extra caffeine from ginseng to fool folks into thinking this is an all-natural energy drink.

24

Mello Yello Zero

Mellow yellow zero

20 fl oz: 0 calories, 0 g carbs (0 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Citric Acid, Aspartame, Sodium Benzoate and EDTA, Acacia, Potassium Citrate, Acesulfame Potassium, Caffeine, Sucrose Acetate Isobutyrate, Natural Flavors, Coconut Oil, Yellow 5.

You know when you add some Mentos to a two-liter Diet Coke and the whole thing explodes? (Don’t try that at home.) That’s thanks to the Gum Acacia in the candy, a natural emulsifier, which is also in this soda.

23

Fanta Zero

Fanta zero

12 fl oz: 0 calories, 1 g carbs (0 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Citric Acid, Potassium Citrate, Aspartame, Natural Flavors, Potassium Benzoate, Modified Food Starch, Acesulfame Potassium, Yellow 6, Glycerol Ester of Rosin, Coconut Oil, Red 40.

Just like its full-calorie cousin, Fanta Zero is an unsavory blend of oils and artificial colors. Even without its unsettling origin story—the Coca-Cola company created Fanta to profit in Germany, when Nazis forbade the importation of U.S.-made Coke—this would still be gross. Speaking of sodas, don’t miss our ultimate list of the Top 32 Regular Sodas—Ranked!

22

Diet Sunkist

Diet sunkist

12 fl oz: 0 calories, 0 g carbs (0 sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Benzoate (preservative), Aspartame, Malic Acid, Modified Food Starch, Natural Flavors, Caffeine, Ester Gum, Acesulfame Potassium, Yellow 6, Red 40

What do you get when you combine carbonated water with aspartame and a host of hard-to-pronounce chemicals? This citrus-inspired sip. It gets its alluring orange color from Yellow 6 and Red 40. A Journal of Pediatrics study linked Yellow 5 to hyperactivity in children and Canadian researchers found Red 40 to be contaminated with known carcinogens.

21

Pibb Zero

Pibb zero

12 fl oz: 0 calories, 0 g carbs (0 sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Caramel Color, Phosphoric Acid, Aspartame, Potassium Sorbate and Potassium Benzoate, Artificial and Natural Flavors, Acesulfame Potassium, Caffeine, Monosodium Phosphate, Lactic Acid, Polyethylene Glycol

A “spicy” cherry soda found mostly in the South—or in Coke Freestyle machines—Pibb Zero contains propylene glycol, a preservative, thickening agent, and stabilizer, also used as antifreeze to de-ice airplanes, as a plasticizer to make polyester resins, and found in electronic cigarettes. In other words, it’s a nutritional zero.

20

Diet Barq’s Root Beer

Diet barqs root beer

12 fl oz: 0 calories, 0 g carbs (0 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Caramel Color, Potassium Sorbate and Sodium Benzoate, Aspartame, Citric Acid, Acesulfame Potassium, Artificial and Natural Flavors, Acacia, Potassium Chloride

As with aspartame, Eat This, Not That! also recommends you limit Acesulfame Potassium, a zero-calorie sweetener that often appears with sucralose or aspartame to create a flavor closer to sugar (it’s 200 times sweeter). Although the FDA does not recognize it as a carcinogen, some experts disagree; the sweetener has been found to cause adverse effects in mice’s gut microbiome. It’s used here to sweeten the root beer, but you’ll also find it in Diet Pepsi, Fresca, and Coke Zero Sugar. For decadent fat-burners without the guilt, don’t miss this list of the 25 Best Carbs That Uncover Your Abs!

19

Diet Mug Root Beer

Diet mug root beer

12 fl oz: 0 calories, 0 g carbs (0 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Caramel Color, Sodium Benzoate, Aspartame, Citric Acid, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Quillaia Extract, Calcium Disodium EDTA

As with the A&W root beer, the ingredient to worry about here is not the odd-sounding Quillaia tree bark, but rather the caramel color and aspartame.

18

Diet Dr. Pepper Cherry

Diet dr pepper cherry

0 calories, 0 g carbs (0 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Caramel Color, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Aspartame, Sodium Benzoate (preservative), Citric Acid, Phosphoric Acid, Caffeine, Malic Acid, Sodium Phosphate, Red 40

The cherry version of Diet Dr. Pepper is worse than the original because of the artificial color Red 40, which Canadian researchers found to be contaminated with known carcinogens.

17

Diet Dr. Pepper Cherry Vanilla

Diet dr pepper cherry vanilla

0 calories, 0 g carbs (0 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Caramel Color, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Aspartame, Sodium Benzoate (preservative), Citric Acid, Phosphoric Acid, Caffeine, Malic Acid, Red 40

Like old school Cherry, the Vanilla also has Red 40—and no actual vanilla.

16

Dr. Brown’s Diet Black Cherry

Diet dr brown black cherry soda

0 calories, 0 g carbs (0 sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Cherry and Other Natural Flavors, Citric Acid, Aspartame, Sodium Benzoate, Sodium Citrate, Caramel Color and Artificial Color (Red 40)

Don’t trust a “doctor” who prescribes caramel color and Red 40. Leave this drink out of your fridge for the sake of better health.

15

Diet Dr. Pepper

Diet dr pepper

12 fl oz: 0 calories, 0 g carbs (0 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Caramel Color, Aspartame, Phosphoric Acid, Artificial and Natural Flavors, Sodium Benzoate, Caffeine.

We know it’s likely your favorite guilty pleasure, but keep this Doctor away and instead don’t miss need these 33 Ways to Flatten Your Belly—Fast!!

14

Diet Mug Cream Soda

Diet mug cream soda

12 fl oz: 0 calories, 0 g carbs (0 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Sodium Benzoate (preserves freshness), Aspartame, Citric Acid, Caramel Color, Yucca Mohave Extract, Calcium Disodium EDTA

Don’t worry too much about the Yucca Mohave Extract—it just makes your artificially-sweetened carbonated water foamy. Instead, wonder: Where’s the cream?

13

Coke Zero Sugar

Coca cola zero sugar

12 fl oz: 0 calories, 0 g carbs (0 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Caramel Color, Phosphoric Acid, Aspartame, Potassium Benzoate, Natural Flavors, Potassium Citrate, Acesulfame Potassium, Caffeine

Coca-Cola rebranded Coke Zero as Coke Zero Sugar back in summer 2017 and nearly broke the Internet. Like Coke Zero, Coke Zero Sugar is sweetened with a mix of aspartame and Ace-K. The only difference? The soda giant tweaked its blend of proprietary natural flavors. Don’t let the fact that this diet drink tastes like real Coke fool you! Thing is, it could make you fat like the real thing, too. “Even though diet drinks are calorie-free, they cause insulin to be released in your gut because their artificial sweeteners are sweet like sugar, and that actually prevents weight loss,” says Miriam Jacobson, RD, CDN. “Insulin is your body’s primary fat-storage hormone, so it will have the body hold on to any extra fat,” she explains, adding that, “Trying to lose weight by trading a Coke for this is doing the body just as much harm, if not more, because of all the chemicals in the calorie-free version.”

12

Flavored Diet Coke

Diet coke flavored

12 fl oz: 0 calories, 0 g carbs (0 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Less Than 0.5% of: Natural Flavors, Caramel Color, Phosphoric Acid, Aspartame, Acesulfame Potassium, Potassium Benzoate, Potassium Citrate, Caffeine

You can chalk up Diet Coke’s recent sales surge to its four new calorie-free flavors: Feisty Cherry, Twisted Mango, Ginger Lime, and Zesty Blood Orange, a bold change made to modernize the brand. While the flavors sound nothing but fun and fruity, their ingredient lists are chock-full-of additives we disapprove of. You’re better off sipping on one of these 15 New Drinks That Make it Easy to Quit Soda.

11

Diet Coke

 

Diet coke

12 fl oz: 0 calories, 0 g carbs (0 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Caramel Color, Aspartame, Phosphoric Acid, Potassium Benzoate, Natural Flavors, Citric Acid, Caffeine

The best-selling diet soda in the world recently revamped its image with four new fruity flavors, and sales are soaring! Unfortunately, its lackluster ingredient list isn’t convincing us to stock up on the classic cans.

10

Diet Coke With Splenda

Diet coke with splenda

12 fl oz: 0 calories, 0 g carbs (0 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Caramel Color, Aspartame, Phosphoric Acid, Potassium Benzoate, Sucralose, Caffeine, Acefulsame Potassium, Citric Acid, Tartaric Acid

After reviewing more than 110 animal and human studies, the FDA decided in 1999 to approve sucralose, aka Splenda, for use in all foods. Sucralose opponents argue that the amount of human research is inadequate, but even groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest have deemed it safe. Too bad this one’s a bit hard to find.

9

Diet Pepsi

Diet pepsi

12 fl oz: 0 calories, 0 g carbs (0 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Caramel Color, Aspartame, Phosphoric Acid, Potassium Benzoate (Preserves Freshness), Caffeine, Citric Acid, Natural Flavor, Acesulfame Potassium

Pepsi axed aspartame in its formula back in 2015, replacing it with Ace-K and sucralose. But when former fans demanded the return of the original recipe, the brand acquiesced and injected the sweetener back into the cans.

8

Caffeine-Free Diet Coke

Diet coke caffeine free

12 fl oz: 0 calories, 0 g carbs (0 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Caramel Color, Aspartame, Phosphoric Acid, Potassium Benzoate, Natural Flavors, Citric Acid

Although Eat This, Not That! isn’t against caffeine—it’s proven to boost metabolism and aid weight loss—excessive caffeine screws with your sleep schedule and suppresses functions of key immune agents. And insufficient sleep opens the door to colds, upper respiratory infections and other ills. So if you’re on your third can of DC for the day, switch to this, if you must.

7

Diet Rite

Diet rite cola

12 fl oz: 0 calories, 0 g carbs (0 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Caramel Color, Phosphoric Acid, Sucralose, Citric Acid, Potassium Benzoate (preservative), Acesulfame Potassium, Natural Flavors, Acacia Gum, Potassium Citrate

It has zero aspartame (yay!) but also zero caffeine, which leaves us wondering why would anyone drink this.

6

Caffeine-Free Diet Pepsi

Diet pepsi caffeine free

12 fl oz: 0 calories, 0 g carbs (0 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Caramel Color, Phosphoric Acid, Potassium Benzoate (Preserves Freshness), Citric Acid, Natural Flavor, Acesulfame Potassium, Potassium

As we’ve said, we’re into caffeine, as long as you don’t overdo it. But why drink a can of chemicals if you’re not even benefiting from the buzz?

5

Diet 7Up

Diet 7 up

12 fl oz: 0 calories, 0 g carbs (0 g sugar)

Ingredients: Filtered Carbonated Water, Citric Acid, Potassium Citrate, Potassium Benzoate (Preservative), Natural Flavors, Aspartame, Acesulfame Potassium, Calcium Disodium EDTA

What separates this from all the rest? No artificial coloring. Yet it’s still filled with artificial sweetener. Click here for the 20 Unhealthiest Foods on the Planet!

4

Sprite Zero

Sprite zero

12 fl oz: 0 calories, 1 g carbs (0 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Citric Acid, Potassium Citrate, Natural Flavors, Potassium Benzoate, Aspartame, Acesulfame Potassium

As with the Diet 7Up, the Sprite Zero has no artificial colors. But why settle for artificial flavors?

3

Zevia Ginger Root Beer

Zevia ginger root beer

12 fl oz: 0 calories, 0 g carbs (0 g sugar)

Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Stevia Leaf Extract, Natural Flavors, Citric Acid

This small company, founded by soda-loving parents who wanted something healthier for their children, distributes a variety of classic flavors from cola to ginger ale to grape without using artificial sweeteners or artificial colors. Instead, they’re sweetened with stevia. “Unlike other sweeteners—specifically artificial sweeteners—they are not thousands of times sweeter than sugar, so they may cause less metabolic confusion in terms of sweetness as compared to caloric delivery, although more research still needed,” Smith tells us. Brilliantly, this root beer tastes like the real thing—and is clear, because there’s no caramel color.

2

Hint Kick

Hint kick black raspberry

16 fl oz: 0 calories, 0 g carbs (0 g sugar)

Ingredients (Black Raspberry): Purified Water, Black Raspberry, Other Natural Flavors from non-GMO Plants and Natural Caffeine from Coffee Beans

OK, we’re totally cheating here. Hint Water isn’t carbonated, cola-flavored, or sold in 64-ounce Big Gulps. But these new flavored bottled waters do have 60 milligrams of caffeine derived from coffee beans. That’s more than you’ll find in Diet Dr. Pepper (41 milligrams), Diet Coke (47 milligrams), or even Mountain Dew (54 milligrams). So you get all of the pop, with none of the calories—and each flavor is sweetened not with aspartame, but with fruit juice or spice. Try the Black Raspberry (and don’t overdo it, since caffeine can dehydrate you), and you’ll never go back to Diet Coke again. And to blast even more fat, don’t miss these 30 Skinny Secrets from the World’s Sexiest Women!

And the #1 Diet Soda Is…

1

Bai5 Bubbles

Bai bubbles

11.5 fl oz (Bolivia Black Cherry): 5 calories, 11 g carbs (1 g sugar, 10 g erythritol)

Ingredients: Filtered Carbonated Water, Bai Proprietary Sweetener Blend (Erythritol, Stevia Extract), Natural Flavors, Cherry Juice Concentrate, Malic Acid, Citric Acid, Fruit and Vegetable Juice (for color), Coffeefruit Extract, White Tea Extract, Ascorbic Acid, Sodium Citrate.

Founded by coffee guru Ben Weiss in his Princeton basement, Bai5 is a line of all-natural fruity drinks with exotic flavors like Guatemala Guava, Jamaica Blood Orange and Bolivia Black Cherry. They’re sweetened with fruit juice, erythritol and stevia (not aspartame) and powered by 45 milligrams of caffeine, thanks to the tea and coffeefruit. Meet the Best Diet Soda in America!

This article was originally published October 27, 2015, and was updated in April 2018 with more recent information.

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