Is That Soda Really Sugar-Free? Test It With Tes-Tape Before You Drink

Please enjoy this Archive Favorite, originally published on November 1, 1992.

Have your BG's ever skyrocketed after you drank an ostensibly "diet" soda from a soda fountain? Read on and let us hear your comments.

Diet sodas aren't always sugar-free. Sometimes restaurants or other outlets will mistakenly mix sugared syrup with carbonated water.

Apr 28, 2008

Carol Whitton of Coral Springs, Florida, discovered that her blood sugar often increased sharply after she drank a diet soda while dining in a restaurant. So she started to test her diet drinks for sugar, a practice she learned from watching the “Living With Diabetes” television program.

Carol found that many times her sodas contained traces of sugar. Worse still, in one two-week period, every “diet” soda she ordered in several different restaurants was not a diet soda at all, but the real thing--full of sugar. This explained why she was having problems controlling her blood sugar.

Carol now tests every fountain soda she buys using Tes-Tape, a glucose test strip designed to detect excess sugar in urine. The strip turns green in the presence of sugar. By placing a small drop of her soda onto a Tes-Tape strip, Carol easily determines whether or not the drink is sugarless.

Sugar Traces Are No Surprise

Studies have shown that finding traces of sugar in diet sodas served at restaurants is not uncommon. This puts people with diabetes, such as Carol, into a potentially dangerous situation.  In 1992, Diabetes Health published an article on a study conducted in North Carolina that assessed the incidence of sugar in fountain diet sodas. The researchers found that 42 percent of drinks tested contained traces of sugar, and two percent of them contained sugar in a markedly high concentration.

People with diabetes need to be assured that their diet sodas contain no sugar. But what is being done to solve this problem? Is any type of quality control being implemented at restaurants to assure people with diabetes that their health is not at risk?

Presently, the stance that most restaurants seem to be taking is one of indifference. Because most customers who order diet sodas are more concerned about calories than they are about raising their blood sugars, restaurants don't consider sugar in their diet sodas to be a serious health issue. But for the large number of people with diabetes who enjoy drinking diet sodas when eating out, it is a serious health issue.

Carol Takes Action

After consistently finding sugar in the diet cokes from a McDonald's restaurant in her area, Carol Whitton decided to blow the whistle. She called the McDonald's headquarters in Illinois, but found the company unresponsive to the problem. The only assistance McDonald's gave Carol was to advise her to contact the Coca-Cola Company instead and ask it for help.

When the Coca-Cola Company received word from Carol about the problem in South Florida, it sent its Field Service Manager, Dennis Salatiello, down from Atlanta to look into the situation. He spent a day with Carol testing diet cokes in the South Florida area. Over the next few months, Carol also mailed samples of diet coke that had tested positive for sugar back to Atlanta.

The official word from the Coca-Cola Company is that this is not a widespread problem. Even so, the company is now sending field representatives all over the country with test strips to routinely check the diet coke served at restaurants. The Coca-Cola Company maintains that if a mistake is found, its field representatives take immediate action to correct the problem.

While the Coca-Cola Company claims to be dealing with this problem, the advice its representatives give to people with diabetes is to continue testing their diet sodas when eating out – a practice most people with diabetes weren't doing to begin with.

Employees Could Be the Culprits

Although no single explanation of the presence of sugar in diet sodas has been uncovered, it is generally thought to be a result of negligence on the part of restaurant employees, not the soda manufacturers. Most restaurants receive their sodas from the manufacturer in containers that are labeled correctly. It is when the sodas are being served through a fountain dispenser that the errors occur.

The official statement from the Coca-Cola Company for the presence of sugar in diet sodas is that there are three possible causes: 1) The wrong soda container is connected to the diet line; 2) the counter-person accidentally serves the wrong drink; or 3) the diet soda is combined with regular soda.

Though the Coca-Cola Company claims to be handling the situation with its own methods, the real solution lies in educating restaurants about the seriousness of this problem. Strong standards need to be set to ensure the health of all customers, including those with diabetes. If restaurants continue to consider this a non-issue, then nothing substantial will be done to solve the problem, and the health of people with diabetes will continue to be at risk.

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Posted by Anonymous on 8 January 2008

This article would have been more useful if it provided information on where to find Tes-Tape. I also googled it have not been able to locate it yet. I know I have been served regular soda a numerous places when I specifically asked for diet. I suspect the real problem is the person that serves the drink. To most people diet versus regular soda is just a taste choice or deals with diet issues. Very few bartenders and waitresses that I have spoken with even consider the fact that people order diet soda because of diabetic issues.

Posted by Anonymous on 25 April 2008

This is outrageous! It's the same for every other allergy in the food industry; "If it doesn't affect me, why should I worry about it." One day it's going to be that way for all of these people and then maybe the rest of us will stand a chance. Look at how long it took to get labels to say it has peanuts in it.

Those of us who have to "live" with diabetes and food allergies count on labels, menus, and restaurants to be honest with us. If they can't do that, then please post a sign to let us know. Everyone out there with diabetes and allergies should be outraged by this. And for those who are already laughing at this comment let me put it to you this way: imagen yourself calmly eating your meal when you suddenly feel your throat tighten. You wonder what's going on since you were only eating a salad. As you lie in your hospital bed wondering what happened, the doctor tells you that the salad you were eating had sulfides in it (a preservative for the lettuce) or a mushroom was put on your salad and removed (instead of remade). These are the "little" things that the rest of the world has to face.

As for me, I stay away from fountain drinks of any kind. The water tap on them comes out of the same spigot as the sugar filled lemonade. I haven't been to McDonald's since I was diagnosed with diabetes.

The restaurant industry should seriously consider changing its tune when it comes to food allergies and diabetes. One of these days, you too will be looking for answers. Make it easy and healthy for everyone, find the solution now so we can all live healthier.

By the way: the scenario above was real and very scary!

Posted by Elijah M on 25 April 2008

Another explanation that should be obvious to anyone who's ever worked in food service: if the soda comes from a gun that dispenses several different kinds of soda — both diet and regular — the diet drinks will pick up trace amounts of sugar from residue left by non-diet drinks. This leaves only small trace amounts of sugar. The article briefly mentions, but does not examine, the fact that only 2% of 42% of the drinks they tested - that's 0.84% in plain English — contained a "markedly high concentration" of sugar. That means that 99.16% of the drinks they tested only contained trace amounts. Thus this has nothing to do with employee or manufacturer error. It is more likely an easily explained phenomena; and a relatively innocuous one at that.

I'm not saying that the effects of this are entirely negligible, but in 18 years of being diabetic (and testing at least eight times a day), I have never found such a small amount of sugar to be cause for alarm.

Also, I am AMAZED that someone who was served a regular soda couldn't tell that it wasn't diet. Do these people have functioning taste buds?

I'm sorry, but this article seems incredibly sensationalistic to me.

Posted by Anonymous on 25 April 2008

Diet Coke tastes nasty to me and I can't handle caffeine later in the day so I always drink water when I'm eating out. I drink mostly water at home, too. Problem solved.

Posted by Anonymous on 27 April 2008

Never had problems with coke because I don't drink soft drinks at all. Only water, coffee or tea with no sugar. I've not tasted soft drinks for the past 14 years since I found out that I have type 2.

Posted by Anonymous on 28 April 2008

Some people have more sensitive taste buds than others. I can't tell the difference between beverages sweetened with Splenda and beverages sweetened with sugar. Diet Coke tastes just fine to me.

Posted by Anonymous on 29 April 2008

The diet coke with splenda tastes fine and the coke zero with a blend of sweeteners tastes fine. The regular diet coke sweetened with aspartame only is undrinkable.

Posted by Anonymous on 29 April 2008

What Coca Cola needs to do is use a different size adapter with diet drinks and regular sodas. Kinda like the nozzles at the gas station for gas and diesel. If a restaurant employee can't hook a regular box of syrup up to the diet hoses, no errors could be made...except by the bottler.

Posted by ntrubov on 1 May 2008

Test Tape. How cool. You must be as old as I am (remember when they invented DIRT?).

I did, a few years ago, purchase some glucose test strips just so I could measure the glucose load in "diet" soft drinks. I never did find any glucoes in them. Darn.

So, remember, YOU are the one who is responsible for what you put in your mouth. The restaurant only "helps" you. If it were something that was "really" important then it would be ANOTHER thing. But, hey, YOU are responsible, not them.


Posted by Anonymous on 2 May 2008

did anyone find out where to get the test strips?

Posted by revjmike on 2 May 2008

My wife and I first started testing any "strange tasting" diet soda at restaurants when we thought the drink tasted to "sugary." Sure enough it pegged the meter. The manager checked; and sure enough, they had reversed the tanks. (I don't know if any "full sugar" folk complained about the diet soda they were drinking or not.)

Posted by Anonymous on 5 May 2008

I have had 'funny tasting coke', asked if it was diet and was told yes. With experience I asked for another coke because all the sugar in a real coke could make me pass out.I won't, but this usually works. I AM highly intolerant of soy products and always ask about salad dressings in restaurants. After too many false assurances and the consequences, I take my own in a small bottle.

Posted by Anonymous on 7 May 2008

So... where are glucose test strips available (assuming these are not the test strips used to test our blood but instead to test liquids)? Does anyone know where to purchase them or if they even really exist?

Posted by czxtina on 9 May 2008

Hello... anyone know where to get those Tes Tape? I remember it from years ago, but thought it was dicontinued long ago...
Any diabetic drugstore workers, reps, pharmacists reading this? Hellooo!

Posted by Anonymous on 11 May 2008

We contacted McDonald's about 10 years ago because McDonald's served Regular Coke instead of diet 17 times out of 100. This was my diabetic son's science project so we went to different places at different times over 6 weeks. It is pathetic that McDonald's failed to fix the problem then and still continues this practice!

Posted by pogoberg on 15 May 2008

You can get the test strips at any pharmacy, Target, etc. Just ask the pharmacist. The author indicated they are the same strips used to test urine for glucose. At the Walgreens near me they are sold under the name Diastix Reagent strips.

Posted by Anonymous on 29 May 2008

I live in an area that gets extremely hot during the summer and early fall months. I drink water and Fresca at home, but restaurants only serve Diet Coke, Diet Dr. Pepper or Diet Pepsi. There have been many instances when I was so absorbed or busy that I did not notice the sugar until about a third of the way down. When in the car I can't count the times that I have ordered a diet drink and realized I had been served a sugared drink. Using these strips is an excellent idea. While aware that I am completely responsible for what I place in my mouth - when I have specifically ordered something, I do expect to receive it.

Posted by Anonymous on 18 June 2008

I used to get Tes-tape in a roll at the drugstore-20 years ago and used it just for this purpose. You could take just a small piece and tell insantly if a drink had sugar. I have not been able to find it in might have disappeared with the increase in blood glucose meters. If anyone knows where to get it please tell us!

Posted by cde on 10 August 2008

Any time I am served a "diet" drink in a glass (not in the unopened can or bottle), and before drinking any, I just put a drop or two on my thumb and index finger, rub them together until they are almost dry. If "real" (sugared) drink, the fingers stick together; if "diet," they just dry up and no residue or stickiness. BTW, I believe that the Diastix (sold to check the presence of glucose in urine) do NOT measure fructose concentrations. High fructose corn syrup is used in most sugared soft drinks (because it is cheap and sweet), so its concentration would not be indicated with the Diastix test strips. Of course, fructose raises BG levels in the long run. Diastix also do not detect lactose, present in many milk products. (Don't fall for the "de-lactosed" milk sold for those with allergy to lactose...the way they eliminate it is to convert it to glucose, hardly a solution for a person with DM. A better solution (if you decide to use the Diastix) is thanks to Dr. Bernstein: put a little in your mouth, swirl it around with the saliva, and then use the mixed saliva to do the Diastix test. There are enzymes in the saliva that break down the fructose. On airplanes, I insist on the unopened can of soda. The flight attendants often resist, saying that they are not allowed to give unopened cans to customers. So, I tell them, no problem, I will open it. Dr. Stan De Loach Certified Diabetes Educator México, D. F

Posted by Anonymous on 9 October 2008

I tried to find the strips at Wal-Mart and our local small-town pharmacy. No luck. In fact our local pharmacist remembered them from years ago and thought they weren't made anymore. We need some for a science experiment in our homeschool. Help?

Posted by Anonymous on 12 November 2008

The next time I am suspicious of a fountain drink I will try the 'dry' vs 'sticky' trick. I don't have any expectations of anyone to consider why I order a diet drink. Before I was diabetic, I wouldn't have known to consider. Why should people who don't have it be expected to know about it? I didn't know anything about it until I was diagnosed, and I was 31 years old at the time.

Posted by lameambully on 20 February 2009

Here is a look the best site in 2008 for adults.
I do not know the right sort of a link and it is not clear to you at the forum how to do it.
If you are under 18 do not go to links

Posted by Anonymous on 25 February 2009

if you work at a resturant and someone asked for beef steak and you were served pork would you say its not their fault they dont eat it so how would you expect them to know try telling that to a 14 year old who puts faith in people when his out with friends trying to forget his diabetis and someone who cant be bothered to read a label makes him ill.

Posted by Anonymous on 22 March 2009

Live in SW Florida ----always check my sodas with tes-tape,and have discovered that most of errors when ordering diat sodas is with Spanish speaking wait staff in Mexican restaurants.

Posted by Anonymous on 30 November 2009

Did anyone ever find the Tes-tape anywhere. I have been looking but no luck???

Posted by Anonymous on 6 December 2009

Soda drinks that contain cola colouring eg Diet Coke, may give false positives when using test strips to detect glucose, this is due to the colouring being derived from caramel, which is made from sugar. Also the sugar in soft drinks is sucrose, you would have to change the chemical composition of the sucrose to allow the strips to detect glucose properly.

Posted by Anonymous on 15 February 2010

I have occasionally SEEN people at movie theaters and fast food restaurants fill my cup with regular soda when I specifically said diet. To be honest, I like the places that just give you a cup and let you fill it yourself, at least then what is probably the most common cause of getting the wrong stuff is gone (well, unless you're careless yourself). There was a lot of talk about ways to tell whether your drink is diet, but there were also a lot of comments about types of sugar and other things that the strips can miss. The finger-rubbing thing sounds reliable enough to me, but what if your finger was already sticky or something? And how are you going to look on a date or something sticking your finger in your soda or if you do end up with a sticky finger? Probably not the most romantic picture, huh?

Also, I would like to comment on the stuff about labels (like the person who mentioned how long it took for the peanut thing). I have Celiac Sprue, which means no gluten, which is in most grains and pasta and is often used as a thickener. This can often make it hard when eating out, since the menu doesn't always tell you all the details of everything. I think that restaurants should have a nutrition label for everything on the menu. Or, even better, with so many people having mobile devices with wifi, let you have it generated in case you need to request something with no this or no that, or if the restaurant changes their provider for a certain ingredient. This may sound a little bit excessive, but sometimes things like carb counting can be hard when different brands sometimes have different amounts for the same food. I also think that labels should be required to have a section that gives enough info for all the food allergies. If they did this for the original ingredients, it wouldn't be hard, since the labels are computer generated.

Maybe if we're lucky Obama will throw some of these things if all the health stuff ever gets taken care of. I may sound a little bit demanding here, but they do stuff for other people conditions, why can't they help us a little? I don't want it all immediately, or even all at once, just something to consider and work on in the future.

Posted by funDiva on 25 April 2010

This is an old article but I found Tes-Tape

Hope that helps! :)

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