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Sugar Substitutes in Diet Coke

By Linda Tarr Kent

Diet Coke is a no-calorie soda that is consumed throughout the world. While it does not provide any essential vitamins or minerals, it doesn’t add to your calorie intake either. This product is sweetened with two artificial sweeteners: aspartame and acesulfame-K. Caffeine Free Diet Coke and Diet Coke with Cherry use the same sweeteners.


One of the sweeteners in Diet Coke is acesulfame-K. This sweetener has a chemical structure that is similar to saccharin and is 150 to 200 times sweeter than sugar, according to Elmhurst College in Illinois. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved use of acesulfame-K in 1988. This sweetener also is commonly found in desserts, gum, gelatins, yogurt and sauces. It’s frequently used in combination with aspartame.


Diet Coke contains aspartame. This artificial sweetener has two components, phenylalanine and aspartic acid, according to Elmhurst College. It is 180 times sweeter than sugar. Some people report side effects from taking aspartame including nausea, dizziness, mood changes and headaches, says Amy Christine Brown, author of “Understanding Food.” A small number of people may be sensitive to the breakdown products in aspartame, such as aspartic acid, Brown notes. However, side effects remain unproven in scientific studies, note the experts at University of Maryland Medical Center.

Despite this, Internet sites frequently post information on health risks of aspartame. Such postings are based on anecdotal evidence and remain scientifically undocumented, according to the experts at Elmhurst. Aspartame was approved by the FDA in 1981 and since then has become one of the most commonly used artificial sweeteners in the country. The FDA declined to alter its opinion that aspartame is safe in 2007 after an Italian study maintained that the sweetener is a carcinogen, or cancer causing agent, due to flaws in the study, according to the U.S. agency.

Phenylalanine Warning

Soda labels like the ones on Diet Coke products must feature a warning about phenylalanine, one of the components in aspartame. Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid, according to However, it poses a risk to people who have phenylketonuria, or PKU. If you don’t have PKU, the phenylalanine in your soda is nothing to worry about, advise the experts at PKU is a rare condition in which a person’s body cannot process phenylalanine. When PKU is not detected and treated it can cause mental retardation. Newborns in the United States are routinely tested for PKU, according to University of Maryland Medical Center. The warning label was created to help people with PKU avoid intake of phenylalanine.

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