Are You Being Fooled by Zero Calorie Sodas?

July 17th, 2009

Coke Zero and Pepsi MaxZero calorie sodas such as Coke Zero and Pepsi Max are slowly but surely becoming the next generation of diet soft drinks. Based on their popularity, people are obviously drinking them, but if they don’t contain any calories, then what exactly is it that you’re drinking?

As a result of consuming too much processed food that’s high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, the majority of the population is overweight and many of the people who are trying to slim down by cutting calories are failing miserably. As such, zero calorie beverages such as Coke Zero and Pepsi Max are not the answer to weight loss that many people believe them to be, and to make matters worse, the chemical additives in these beverages can compromise your health.

Coke Zero and Pepsi Max

Most diet sodas, including Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi, have been virtually calorie free for years. As such, Coke Zero and Pepsi Max are nothing more than diet sodas with some new ingredients and a unique marketing spin. The following are some of the more notable ingredients found in Coke Zero and Pepsi Max that don’t exist in their full calorie Coke and Pepsi counterparts.


Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that’s considered by many health experts to be one of the most dangerous food additives in existence. Despite a significant amount of controversy, aspartame is frequently associated with cancer, neurological disorders including Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, and a very long list of other conditions and unpleasant symptoms.

Much of the controversy surrounding aspartame is fueled by corporate interest. In the late 1990s, Dr. Ralph Walden showed how significant this influence is by conducting a peer review of the 165 studies that were available at the time and were related to the safety of aspartame for humans. Of these studies, 74 were funded by corporations with financial ties to aspartame and the other 91 were funded by independent sources. All of the research that had financial ties to aspartame deemed it to be safe while 92% of the independent research indicated otherwise.

Acesulfame Potassium

Acesulfame potassium, often referred to as Acesulfame K, is another artificial sweetener that’s increasing in popularity. Although more research needs to be done on Acesulfame K, it’s been shown to promote cancer and increased insulin production in animals.

Potassium Benzoate

Potassium benzoate is a food preservative that’s used to prevent the growth of yeast, mold, and bacteria. It’s drawn a lot of negative attention due to it’s potential to form benzene when combined with vitamin C. Long term exposure to benzene has been found to cause cancer, anemia, suppressed immunity, irregular menstruation, and infertility.

Trading One Problem for Another

As shown by the following table, the biggest difference between Coke Zero, Diet Coke, Pepsi Max, and Diet Pepsi is the introduction of the Acesulfame K sweetener and the reduction of aspartame.

  Coke Zero Diet Coke Pepsi Max Diet Pepsi
Acesulfame K 46 mg 0 mg 32 mg 0 mg
Aspartame 87 mg 187 mg 123 mg 177 mg

Although Acesulfame K appears to be much less of a risk than aspartame, it’s safety is still in question, and that leaves Coke Zero and Pepsi Max with two potentially dangerous artificial sweeteners instead of one.

The Max Factor

In addition to being a zero calorie soft drink, Pepsi Max is also marketed for it’s increased caffeine content and the addition of ginseng, both of which give it the appeal of an energy drink. In comparison to the 38 mg of caffeine in regular Pepsi, there’s 69 mg of caffeine in Pepsi Max. The inclusion of ginseng, which is a natural herbal supplement used to promote better mental and physical function, even gives Pepsi Max a bit of a misleading health appeal.

Neither caffeine nor ginseng will ever provide you with the long lasting and balanced sense of energy that can only result from optimal health. Furthermore, frequently relying on caffeine for energy will likely worsen the underlying problem that’s causing you to be tired and eventually lead to adrenal fatigue and poorer health.

Another suspect ingredient in Pepsi Max is calcium disodium EDTA which is commonly used by health professionals to help remove excess metals such as mercury, lead, and iron from the body. What does this have to do with soda you may ask? According to Pepsi, it helps to “protect flavor.” The real reason why it’s in Pepsi Max is to reduce the risk of benzene forming from the potassium benzoate preservative. How nice of Pepsi to look out for us like that.

A Better Perspective on Weight Loss

Clearly, the most obvious reason to drink zero calorie beverages such as Coke Zero and Pepsi Max is to reduce calorie intake, and in turn, lose weight. Ironically, although this is a controversial topic with research supporting both sides, it’s been shown in at least one study that people who rely on artificially sweetened beverages are more likely to gain weight.1 In association with this, aspartame in particular has been shown to increase appetite2 and calorie consumption.3

Losing weight is no different from increasing your energy in the regard that it’s most effectively done through a healthy lifestyle. Too many people prioritize their appearance over their health, and as a result, fail to understand that pursuing better health and following a healthy diet will naturally lead to weight loss.

No type of soda, regardless of how many or how few calories it has, is ever a good choice. However, by following healthy habits on a regular basis, you’ll be able to enjoy soda in moderation without much impact to your health or weight, and when you do, you might as well enjoy the real thing!

[1. Fowler SP, Williams K, Resendez RG, Hunt KJ, Hazuda HP, Stern MP. "Fueling the Obesity Epidemic? Artificially Sweetened Beverage Use and Long-term Weight Gain." Obesity. 2008. 16(8):1894-1900.]
[2. Tordoff MG, Alleva AM. "Oral stimulation with aspartame increases hunger." Physiology & Behavior. 1990. 47(3):555-559.]
[3. Lavin JH, French SJ, Read NW. "The effect of sucrose and aspartame sweetened drinks on energy intake, hunger and food choice of female, moderately restrained eaters." International Journal of Obesity. 1997. 21:37-42.]

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