What’s In It? Wednesdays—Diet Coke

I’ve decided to start a new informational series where I discuss ingredients in popular foods. I would LOVE to eat a more “natural” food diet, but even that word is tossed around in a loose fashion when it comes to lists of ingredients.

I have always loved my Diet Coke. I love it with pizza, with french fries, with Indian food, but my friend ruined it for me when she said, “You’re drinking chemicals!” Since then, I haven’t enjoyed it quite as much. I still drink it, but just not very often. So here are the ingredients of Diet Coke’s U.S. version and what they are.

The first definition is from Coca-Cola’s website, and the italicized part is based on further online research that I have done or my own opinion. Just an aside, if you need to have an ingredients glossary as Coca-Cola does, it might be a really good clue not to drink their products.

Carbonated Water: “Also known as soda water, sparkling water, or seltzer, is water with carbon dioxide bubbles added to provide fun and refreshment.”

According to dictionary.com, carbonated water is an “effervescent beverage artificially charged with carbon dioxide.” I remember hearing that carbonation was bad for your bones, but I can’t find any scientific studies proving this. There was a Tuft’s University study that showed that it might be caffeine in soda that causes bone density issues, not the carbonation.

YUM YUM YUM!

Caramel Color: “Made by a process involving the heating of corn or cane sugar and other carbohydrates to achieve the desired color.

Ah caramel, makes me think of Halloween, so comforting and able to remove fillings. This seemingly harmful ingredient was actually found by The Journal of the American Medical Association to raise blood pressure, even more so than caffeine! This can apparently lead to hypertension. There are some people that believe that since caramel is made by burning sugar, it is a carcinogen, but I haven’t been able to find anything on this on a site that looks professional. Caramel coloring is used in many food products.

Aspartame

Aspartame: “A low-calorie sweetener made primarily of two amino acids; aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Aspartame has been shown to be safe for everyone, including children and pregnant women. When used in foods and beverages a warning on the labels is provided to people who can’t metabolize aspartame: PHENYLKETONURICS: CONTAINS PHENYLALANINE. For more information about low-calorie sweeteners, visit http://www.thebeverageinstitute.org/booklets/files/low-calorie-sweeteners.pdf

The way aspartame (also known as NutraSweet) is made is so complex that I don’t even understand it (I got an F in chemistry), but you can go to Wikipedia to see how it’s made. Although there were some concerns about aspartame causing brain cancer in lab rats, this seems to have been dismissed. According to Wikipedia, it has been approved in 90 countries. Aspartame is still dangerous for people why can’t metabolize it (people with PKU). My thinking is that if you’re going to add sweetener to coffee or tea, just add sugar. It occurs naturally, which makes me trust it more.

Phosphoric Acid: Used in certain soft drinks, including Coca-Cola, to add tartness to the beverage. Phosphoric acid contains phosphorus, one of the basic elements of nature and an essential nutrient. Phosphorus is a major component of bones. For more information about bone health, see http://www.thebeverageinstitute.org/healthcare_professionals/bone_health_qa.shtml

Phosphoric acid is a mineral that is used for teeth etching, rust removal and flux, and yet it is not proven to be harmful for consumption. Again, I’m not a science type, so if you want to know the make up of this substance, check out the Wiki page.

Potassium Benzoate (“to protect taste”): “Used as a preservative and to protect taste.”

According to the FDA’s website, Benzene is a carcinogen that can cause cancer in humans. They say, “In November 2005, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received private laboratory results reporting low levels of benzene in a small number of soft drinks that contained benzoate salts (an antimicrobial) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C)…Benzene is a carcinogen and has caused cancer in workers exposed to high levels from workplace air…The vast majority of beverages sampled to date (including those containing both benzoate preservative and ascorbic acid) contain either no detectable benzene or levels below the 5 ppb EPA MCL for drinking water.Kinda unsettling. You can read more about it on the FDA site.

“Natural” Flavors: “Derived from the essential oils or extracts of spices, fruits, vegetables and herbs.”

Here is the Code of Federal Regulation’s Title 21, Volume 2 from 2002, where the definition of “natural flavoring follows:

“(3) The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional. Natural flavors include the natural essence or extractives obtained from plants listed in Secs. 182.10, 182.20, 182.40, and 182.50 and part 184 of this chapter, and the substances listed in Sec. 172.510 of this chapter.”

Once you’ve deciphered what that all means, you can see the definitions for other food labeling terms. It makes my head spin and makes me want to eat only fruits and veggies I find at the local farm where I can watch how they grow their food! At any rate, not sure WHAT the natural flavoring in Diet Coke is made out of since they don’t have to TELL us. Now I’m mad!

Citric Acid: “Citric acid is the most widely used organic acid in the food industry and has been used for more than 100 years. It is a compound that is found in animals and plants. Citric acid can be produced from different plant sources, including corn. It is also commonly found in citrus fruits such as lemon, orange, and grapefruit, which is why it is named “citric acid”. Citric acid is used in beverages to provide tartness.”

From Dictionary.com: a white, crystalline, water-soluble powder, C 6 H 8 O 7 ⋅H 2 O, a tribasic acid having a strong acidic taste, an intermediate in the metabolism of carbohydrates occurring in many fruits, esp. limes and lemons, obtained chiefly by fermentation of crude sugar or corn sugar: used chiefly in the flavoring of beverages, confections, and pharmaceuticals. So does this mean it’s naturally occurring or man-made or both?

Caffeine: Comes from the leaves, seeds, or fruits of more than 60 plants. It is found in beverages and foods, such as coffee, tea, colas, and chocolate. Caffeine can also be man-made.

Wow! According to Wiki, caffeine is a psychoactive drug! Gimme more! In plants, it’s a natural pesticide that paralyzes or kills certain kinds of bugs! It works on our Central Nervous Systems, and it is thought that caffeine can either negatively or positively affect memory, depending which study’s authors you ask! In adults who are not severely hyptertensive, caffeine can actually benefit the heart, but it has been linked to hyperactivity in children who consume a lot of cola. You can read more about caffeine in the Wiki article, where the above text comes from.

Conclusion
It’s probably okay to occasionally indulge in a diet soda, but not something you want to overdo due to some of the ingredients. Also, did you know that the FDA does not require companies to list ingredients if the traces are very small? Kinda makes ya think!

Caramel apple photo is from Candy Apple Shoppe
Phosphorica acid photo is from Wikipedia
Corn photo from WholesomeWave

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15 Responses to What’s In It? Wednesdays—Diet Coke

  1. I stopped drinking Diet Coke several months ago and my stomach aches stopped within a few days or a week. It was the best thing I ever did! I’m also less bloated. I’ve switched to green tea….much better for you!

    Great article!

  2. Yum Yucky says:

    I love this feature! keep it up. edumacate me!

  3. krismoconnor says:

    Natural flavors? I had no idea! My toddler nephew has an EXTREMELY SEVERE lactose intolerance and we learned that “natural flavors” was one of those “sneaky” ingredients that he should avoid.

    Very interesting…..

    PS – I went out the other night, splurged on Thai on a Friday night and ordered a diet coke (along with the water) – first time in a WHILE – and I finished the water and not the soda. It didn’t even taste that good to me.

    Very strange – I think I have been inhabited by alien creatures….

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  6. yea this is still so disturbing. I will drink a diet every now and then but in college…rum and diets were my beverage. Again, ick.

  7. I made the choice to cut out diet soda just because I suspected that the artificial sweeteners were the culprits behind my dizziness. Since I stopped I’ve been feeling a lot better, and my stomach ulcers have gone away as well. I won’t say that I’ll never drink soda again, but if I do it probably won’t be diet soda.

    Thanks for the great informative post!

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