Diet Soda, the Silent Killer?
—By Tom Philpott
What is this thing called diet soda? Here are the ingredients of one of the best-selling brands, Diet Pepsi:
CARBONATED WATER, CARAMEL COLOR, ASPARTAME, PHOSPHORIC ACID, POTASSIUM BENZOATE (PRESERVES FRESHNESS), CAFFEINE, CITRIC ACID, NATURAL FLAVOR
My favorite line on that list is the “preserves freshness” that follows potassium benzoate. The freshness of what, precisely? The caramel color? Not likely—caramel color for most colas comes from a chemical reaction between sugar, ammonia, and sulfites at high temperatures. Or maybe it’s the phosphoric acid? Or the least plentiful ingredient of all, the unspecified “natural flavor”? In plain English, diet soda is artificially blackened water tarted up with synthetic chemicals. That anyone ponies up cash for such a thing surely counts as one of the food industry’s greatest marketing triumphs.
But it’s relatively benign, because it doesn’t fill people up with superfluous and potentially toxic calories from isolated sugars. Right? Well, maybe not.