Do Coke Zero or Diet Coke Affect a Low Carb Diet?

diet coke cola keto

Coke Zero and Diet Coke are soft drinks that are widely available, and have similar popularity to regular Coke soft drinks. The debate of ‘which is better’ between Coke and Diet Coke is perhaps just as heated as the debate between Coke and Pepsi fans. For people that love to drink these Coca-Cola items, but are also trying to maintain a low carb diet, the question becomes: do they affect a low carb diet?

Do Coke Zero or Diet Coke Affect a Low Carb Diet? Diet Coke and Coke Zero have zero carbohydrates, zero calories and zero sugar. However, Diet Coke and Coke Zero have been shown to cause health problems when drank regularly, which might work against the goals of a low-carb diet.

One concern is that Diet Coke and Coke Zero reduce their calorie counts and sugar counts and keep a great cola taste by using substitutes – artificial sweeteners. These alternatives aren’t problem free, so depending on why you are on a Low Carb diet, you might be taking one step forward … only to take two steps back.

Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe?

People have been looking carefully at artificial sweeteners for a long time. As early as the 1970s, studies involving lab rats linked one artificial sweetener, saccharin, to bladder cancer for the animals studied. However, this study was not seen as enough, as the National Cancer Institute and other health agencies eventually took the position that artificial sweeteners were safe in smaller amounts, even for people as vulnerable as those who are currently pregnant.

The risk of artificial sweeteners tends to be based on which ones are being used. For instance, Diet Coke contains Splenda, acesulfame potassium and sucralose; Coke Zero contains aspartame and acesulfame potassium. These have not been found to be as immediately risky as some others. In the past, an artificial sweetener called sodium cyclamate was used in Coke Zero, but was found to be carcinogenic and was ultimately removed. Each of these additives has their own story, so depending on the goals of your low carb diet, some extra research might be warranted.

Ultimately, the key point is that to avoid concerns one must stick to reasonable amounts. The FDA gives things like these additives a pass only when considering an acceptable daily intake, or ADI. This means that if you are going to be safe, you should be sure to keep your coke drinking amounts at a reasonable level. This leads us to ask – what is a reasonable amount of these drinks in your diet?

Diet Coke and Coke Zero in Your Diet

The first red flag that comes up when exploring the challenges of Diet Coke and Coke Zero comes from comparing them to regular Coke, which is why discussing artificial sweeteners was a logical starting point. However, this avoids the question of how these products affect your diet overall. A person choosing a low-carb diet is presumably doing so for the health benefits of that choice, including but not limited to weight loss, diabetes, heart disease or even acne. Diet Coke and Coke Zero have no carbs, but that may not matter if they have consequences that cancel out the benefits of a low carb diet.

zero carb cola

One article at went into great detail exploring the potential problems of diet coke, including an analysis of what happens one hour after drinking a can of diet coke. To summarize, after drinking a can of diet coke, over one hour of time a person experiences the following:

  • Phosphoric acid attacks your teeth;
  • Artificial sweeteners may cause your body to think it had sugar, activating insulin and triggering fat storage, with possible negative effects on diabetes, blood pressure, and heart disease;
  • Caffeine and aspartame both may begin to cause addiction;
  • After some brief satisfaction, the drink may cause you to crave more soft drinks or other sweets, causing a vicious cycle

The author also relates that these effects can be extended to other related sodas, including Coke Zero.

Some of these things, such as the artificial sweeteners’ effects and the cravings, seem to be less guaranteed from just one can of coke, but are still quite concerning. It’s possible that these side effects could cancel out the benefits of one’s low carb diet, or make it harder to maintain that diet by driving you toward other foods that are not appropriate in order to satisfy the sudden cravings brought on by the drink. 

The work of Susan E. Swithers, a neuroscientist and psychology professor at Purdue University, found that regularly drinking diet sodas, even one per day, can be connected to increased risks of many health issues, such as heart disease, diabetes and issues with one’s metabolism.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is basically the same list as the health benefits of a low carb diet. In this case, though, diet sodas are pushing people in the opposite direction: instead of improving those things, as the low-carb diet aims to, regularly drinking even relatively small amounts of these sodas instead creates health problems.

This brings us full circle: the FDA, and others like it, have decided that the amounts of certain additives in soda pops were not enough to stop them from being included in products that people can buy. However, these products, such as Coke Zero and Diet Coke, are not a good choice if one is trying to pursue a healthy diet. In the same way, while these items have no or low calories and no or low sugar, and that way seem to fit better in a low-carb diet, they are still a bad choice because they push a person away from the very goals that led them to choose a low carb diet in the first place.

Sodas and Soft Drinks other than Coke Zero and Diet Coke

It seems like a logical next step to wonder, then, if the problem is sodas and soft drinks in general, or Coke Zero and Diet Coke specifically. Some brief research shows us quickly why Coca Cola took the route they did: removing sugar and calories. The reason they chose to do this comes out quickly in that critiques of soft drinks often discuss them with another name – sugary drinks.

The critiques in these articles at many points zoom in on the root cause of soft drinks’ health risks as being their very high sugar content. The fact that these sodas remove calories also helps to dodge the common critique of pop as ‘empty calories,’ namely calories that have no nutritional or positive health value. Coke Zero and Diet Coke avoid the sugar and calorie issues, but end up falling into new traps of their own as seen above. For the sake of knowing, then, what is the problem with other soda options?

The problems with sodas are numerous:

  • Sodas with high sugar content increase a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • High sugar content can also be bad for the health of your teeth.
  • The cans that sodas often come in are lined with BPA, which has been found to have an enormous range of health issues, including heart disease or even reproductive issues. These risks are made worse by the finding that sodas increase the risk of heart disease specifically among men.
  • Most sodas include caffeine, which can lead to dehydration with its own host of issues.
  • Some of the coloring ingredients in sodas are produced in artificial, chemical ways that have been found to cause different types of cancer.
  • Sodas can also affect the amount of calcium that is absorbed successfully by your bones, making your bones less healthy.
  • Drinking soda or other sugary drinks regularly could make you more likely to experience liver disease, compared to drinks without sugar.

Taken as a whole, it is clear that sodas are not good for us, and that the only way to consume them safely is to do so only very rarely. A safe guideline is to avoid drinking any more than 450 calories worth, which is roughly three cans of soda or sugary drinks, in any given week.

coke bottle

Non-diet soft drinks contain a host of issues because of sugar content and empty calories, making diet drinks seem better by comparison. However, it seems the jury is still out as to whether regular sugary sodas or diet sodas are worse, with some arguing for regular sodas being worse and others arguing for the opposite.

Overall, it would seem that if a person’s intention with a low-carb diet is to become healthier and / or lose weight that one will be a lot more successful if they either eliminate sodas of all kinds from their diets, or at least keeps the number that they drink to a minimum.

Different Cold Drink Options in Low-Carb Diets

Being realistic, it is not a likely outcome that one will simply stop drinking soda, whether sugary or diet, if there is nothing to fill that gap. A cool, tasty beverage is a great accompaniment to meals, and often a treat in its own right. If Coke Zero and Diet Coke, as well as other sodas, are something we should ideally not have, or have rarely, then what is the best alternative?

Immediately, water is a great option. A survey in the late 90s found that many Americans experienced ongoing minor dehydration. It is likely that many of us do not drink as much water as we should, so trading out soda for water would be a good thing overall for our health.

Drinking water and regular hydration, aside from being at a certain level simply necessary to live, provide a number of health benefits:

  • Staying hydrated allows us to have our best physical performance, as we offset the natural dehydration that occurs from sweating during exercise and physical activity.
  • Dehydration, even in mild cases, can cause us to experience reduced concentration, worsened mood and even headaches.
  • Drinking water can also help relieve digestive challenges, such as constipation, and regularly drinking water along with alcohol can offset the symptoms of hangovers.
  • Perhaps most relevantly to those on a low-carb diet pursuing weight loss, drinking water can aid in losing weight by increasing a person’s metabolism and burning calories (the latter mainly occurring when water consumed is cold).
coke cola bottles

Of course, water may not be the most exciting choice in terms of flavor, so adding some tasty fruit or vegetables, such as lemons or cucumber, can make water a more satisfying option in the absence of an artificially flavored cold drink.

Flavored waters often use the above-discussed sugar alternatives, and can have empty calories, meaning they may be no better than diet sodas. In some cases, though, some flavored water brands use Stevia Leaf Extract, which is so far seen as less risky than other sugar-replacing additives.

If the benefits of water and suggestions for how to add some flavor given above don’t appeal, then another healthy alternative is green tea. Green tea has a variety of health benefits, including the potential to reduce a variety of disease risks, as well as being calorie-free and having high antioxidant content. This discussion is about cold drink options here, but obviously green tea can also be drunk hot quite enjoyably.

If someone needs a sugar boost, they can use natural sweeteners such as honey, but one should not forget that high sugar content was found to be the root of the issue for many of the regular sodas discussed above – the idea is to replace sugary drinks, not create a new one!

There are other options as well, but these are a couple that came with a variety of health benefits to replace the health costs of sodas, while still having the potential to be tasty and satisfying. Feel free to experiment and explore other choices, as long as they don’t fall prey to the same issues as sugary drinks and diet colas.

The goal is to make choices that lead toward the goals of one’s low-carb diet, not away from them, so find the option used needs to satisfy one’s needs while also moving the goal forward. Coke Zero and Diet Coke, as well as the sugary drinks they sought to improve upon don’t seem to do that, so finding an alternative and / or keeping those things to a minimum are the keys to continued success while pursuing a low-carb diet.

Related Questions:

Q: Is Coke Zero or Diet Coke relevant to a Keto diet?

A: The short answer is that, yes, these options are a much better choice than regular sodas while on a keto diet. However, the fact that they do not disrupt ketosis and are a much better choice than regular sodas still doesn’t mean they are a good choice.

In discussing a low-carb diet, this article started by pointing out that Coke Zero and Diet Coke do not contain any carbohydrates or calories, and so on the surface would appear as good fits for a low-carb diet. It was as more information was revealed that it became apparent that simply not having carbs or calories was not enough to make Coke Zero and Diet Coke the best match for a low-carb diet.

The difference between a low-carb diet and keto diet is the presence or absence of certain levels of ketones in the body, which are created by maintaining a state of ketosis. High sugar content, carbs and / or calories in regular sodas are an immediate no: they can disrupt ketosis and thus disrupt the success of a keto diet. Diet sodas, however, are somewhat less clear. Lacking carbs, sugars and calories, they seem to be a good fit at first. However, the jury again is still out whether this is actually enough to make diet sodas safe. For Diet Coke and Coke Zero in particular, the fact that their sugar replacements can cause cravings for sugars or sweets may work against a person trying to maintain this diet. More importantly, though, it is the fact that diet colas still have a host of health problems that are not in line with the goals of a keto diet.

Q: What if I Don’t Want to Quit Drinking Sodas?

A: The choice is always going to be up to each individual person. If drinking Diet Coke or Coke Zero is really important to you, then only you can decide what matters more: the goals of your diet, or your desire for these drinks. If you settle on still drinking these sodas, whether you are on a general low-carb diet or specifically on ketosis, you can help yourself offset the negatives of these products by consuming them with moderation. Drinking no more than three cans is the benchmark set by the American Heart Association, so that may be a good place to start if you still want to have a few pops from time to time.


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