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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