Zero Sugar or Diet Soda—Which Is Better?

Ah, the age-old question: what is the difference between diet soda and zero-sugar soda? Is there even one? Is the difference just a marketing plot to give men a more “manly” way to consume drinks with artificial sweeteners, as Rhett suspects?

Well, according to Rhett & Link’s (boopeddyboopboop boop boop boop) research, the main difference is that diet sodas typically use aspartame as the fake sugar, while “zero sugar” sodas use acesulfame potassium along with a few other artificial sweeteners. This obviously varies a bit from brand to brand, but that’s the general rule. Many brands have been replacing diet drinks with zero-sugar drinks recently, and it could have to do with the fact that not everyone chooses zero-sugar drinks because they are on a diet, or maybe it’s to make the drink sound more “manly” (as Rhett thinks), or, my personal guess, maybe it’s so that if the zero sugar drink becomes their flagship SKU then they can say it went from zero to hero. But I digress. Rhett & Link did a blind taste of five different soda brands’ fake-sugar options, and here are their thoughts:

Coca-Cola: Diet or Zero?

Zero. They both tried Diet Coke first and immediately knew what it was. They then tasted the other one (Coke Zero aka Coca-Cola Zero Sugar) and that just confirmed what they already thought: In the case of Coke, Zero is their hero. Rhett said that “with the zero sugar, especially with Coke, I would think I was drinking a classic Coke.” 

Wild Cherry Pepsi: Diet or Zero?

Before they tried anything, Rhett mentioned that he’s “never purposely had Wild Cherry Pepsi,” which, like, that’s very valid. If that’s any of y’all’s go-to please sound off in the comments. But nevertheless, they gave it a try (starting with the Zero Sugar) and Link immediately said “Whooo that cherry is kickin’!” He found that the cherry was “not nearly as robust” in the diet version. Conversely, Rhett was super unsure which was which in this case. Link thought that maybe there was a liiiittle more cola flavor coming through in diet, but honestly, these were pretty close. So close, in fact, that it was a draw—Link liked diet better, Rhett liked zero better.

Red Bull: Sugarfree or Zero

Interestingly, Red Bull mixes it up, calling the bev that contains aspartame “Sugarfree” instead of “diet.” Also interestingly, in this case, both drinks have acesulfame potassium, but Sugarfree has aspartame and Zero has sucralose. This made Rhett & Link think that perhaps these two would taste exactly the same, but that turned out not to be the case. Rhett said the Sugarfree “tastes like medicine, tastes like cough syrup,” while Link noted a pleasant, “tarty aftertaste.” As for Zero, they agreed it was definitely different. “I taste more fakiness,” Rhett said. Link noted that it was not as medicinal but definitely more fakey and not as tart. They both thought the tartness made the Sugarfree taste better.

Dr. Pepper: Diet or Zero Sugar

Going into this Rhett mentioned that Diet Dr. Pepper is one of his go-to drinks, even though he ultimately incorrectly guessed which one it was. Rhett mentioned that he thinks Diet Dr. Pepper tastes more like normal Dr. Pepper than other drinks because there are so many “medicine-y, syrupy” flavors in there that it masks the fake sugar. Interestingly enough, Rhett ended up liking the Zero Sugar (which he thought was the Diet), while Link liked the Diet (which he thought was the Zero Sugar). ~Fascinating~.

Mtn Dew: Diet or Zero Sugar

When Link tasted Diet Mtn Dew after tasting Mtn Dew Zero Sugar, he immediately said, “This is so much better,” and asserted that B (which was diet in this case) was clearly superior. Rhett preferred Zero Sugar, telling Link, “You’re very wrong.” Link thought the Zero Sugar was more lemony and the Diet was more limey. Interesting that, yet again, Rhett liked the Zero Sugar, and Link liked the Diet. See the pattern?

So in conclusion, seeing as Rhett always liked Zero Sugar and Link always liked Diet (except for Coke and Red Bull), I’d say try them both and choose the one YOU like better. Except always go for Coke Zero Sugar and always go for Sugarfree Red Bull. 

About the Author

Jessica Block

Jessica Block is a freelance contributor to Sporked, a comedian, a baker, a food writer, and a firm believer that Trader Joe's may just be the happiest place on earth. She loves spicy snacks, Oreos, baking bread, teeny tiny avocados, and trying new foods whenever she can. Also, if you give her a bag of Takis she will be your best friend.

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  • I think of Zero/Diet as kind of a cousin to Beyond Meat type stuff. Diet is its own flavor, whereas Zero tries to mimic sugared beverages more closely, so people who want that sugar taste are usually better with Zero.

    Also Diet Coke is wretched.