Sugary or Sugar-Free Soda? Find out Using This Trick!

Have you ever ordered a diet soda, sipped it, and immediately doubted whether it was truly diet? Then you might find this little tip useful.

Whenever you’re not certain that your drink is diet or regular, try grabbing your glucometer, putting a test strip in it, dipping your finger in the drink, and wiping it onto the strip – just like you would do when checking your blood sugar. If the drink is diet, then you’ll know because your meter will display an “extreme low” result, or something to that effect. The key is to not panic and remember that it isn’t your blood sugar you’re looking at, it’s the sugar levels in the drink! It’s just the opposite in the case that your drink is regular/sugary – you’ll get a “high” reading that’ll make it obvious that your beverage isn’t what you ordered.

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Photographic evidence of my soda test results.

This trick has come in handy several times for me. Most recently, I was doing some Christmas shopping at the mall with my boyfriend when we decided to stop at the food court for some lunch. We split a chicken tender meal from Arby’s, which came with a medium soda that we could fill on our own.

I took on the task while he waited for our food, and was excited to see that they had Diet Dr. Pepper on tap (seriously, that’s rare for most fast food joints). I filled up the cup, fitted a lid on top, stuck a straw in, and took a sip. Hmm…it tasted sweeter than I thought it should. I mentioned this to my boyfriend as he picked up our food and we made our way to a table. I told him that I definitely got it from a tap that was labeled “diet”, but we both knew that just because the label says it is, it doesn’t guarantee that the right soda bib is hooked up to the proper line. (Our shared experience working at a movie theater several years ago clued us in to the fact that employees can make mistakes with this.)

He expressed his doubts, as well, and then it occurred to me to do the old soda test strip check. So I did, snapping a picture of the results and feeling reassured by the factual evidence that I was drinking a sugar-free – not sugary – beverage.

“I’ll Have a Regular Soda, Please.”

A funny thing about life with diabetes is that new experiences occur all the time. For example, this was a first for me the other day: ordering a regular soda at a restaurant instead of a diet.

Why was this necessary? I chalk it up to a few different factors that affected my blood sugar: 1) I did strength training earlier in the day, which can make me go low several hours after the fact. 2) I ignored the diagonal down arrow that had appeared on my CGM, because I really didn’t think I’d end up below 100 mg/dL before dinner. 3) It took a long time for our dinner to come out, and I’d made the rookie mistake of bolusing soon after ordering the food. 4) I also think I miscalculated the carbs in my dinner – I’m used to ordering this particular dish, a cajun chicken salad, with a beer or two. But since I gave up alcohol for Lent (more on this in an upcoming blog post), I wasn’t getting the extra carbs from the beer, which I forgot to take into account.

So yeah, in hindsight, I could’ve seen the low blood sugar coming. But I just didn’t anticipate some of these occurrences, such as our food coming out late. This particular restaurant is usually timely, but since it was a Saturday evening and the bar was rapidly filling up, I should’ve connected the dots.

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Diet Coke has a special place in my part, but in a hypoglycemic emergency, it just won’t cut it.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda. There was nothing I could do about my rapidly dropping blood sugar, unless I bit the bullet and ordered a regular soda. Shoving my diet root beer to the side, I flagged down my semi-bemused bartender and asked for a regular Pepsi, trying to ignore the fact that he was joking about how “diet just wouldn’t do it for me any longer, eh”.

If only he knew that the circumstances required sugar, stat.

It only took him about 60 seconds to deliver the Pepsi, but it felt like a long time. My CGM alerted me to an urgent low and things around me were a little fuzzy. I was trying to engage in conversation with my companions, who knew that I was going low, but maybe weren’t aware of how quickly I was going down due to my determination to appear normal.

Once my Pepsi arrived, I gulped down several sips and sighed with relief as my dinner appeared soon after. I wolfed down every last bit of it within 15 minutes, taking breaks only to drink a little more soda. I knew I needed to control how much I drank, because I didn’t want to end up sky high later on in the night.

Fortunately, my blood sugar was coming back up to normal within no time, and I actually didn’t even go higher than 172 mg/dL for the remainder of the night. A huge win, all things considered. Even though it was a somewhat scary experience, I’m glad I did what I needed to in order to take proper care of myself…even if that meant drinking regular soda, which was actually pretty gross. How do people actually enjoy that saccharine sludge?!

An Ode to Diet Coke

Growing up, Diet Coke was my lifeblood. It was my zero-carb drink of choice with every meal, the one beverage I craved when dealing with high blood sugar. Liters of it were in my house at all times, because once a fresh bottle was popped open, it was certain that it wouldn’t last long.

But as I got older (and wiser, I’d like to think), I realized that I needed to wean myself off Diet Coke for my health. My water intake was practically non-existent, and reports of large quantities of soda made me wary of what it was doing to my body. So I replaced Diet Coke, slowly, with flavored water and sparkling water. At first, it was tough, but I got used to it. Gradually, Diet Coke evolved from an everyday dietary staple to a monthly indulgence. I didn’t even really miss it as I began to incorporate funky flavors of seltzer water into my lineup of drinks.

Of course, it was harder to stay away from Diet Coke when I began working at my current job. Suddenly, a fully-stocked fridge of Coca-Cola products was within my reach. It wasn’t just Diet Coke, it was Coke Zero and its enticing kin, Vanilla and Cherry Coke Zero. Boy, was it difficult to avoid the temptation of cracking one open. I would cast longing looks in the direction of the red and black cans as I forced myself to opt for lime and mixed berry seltzer waters. The fizz quelled my desire for carbonation, but it was far from replacing the peppery sweet satisfaction of an ice-cold sip of Diet Coke.

A few months ago, though, my attitude towards my diet soda ban changed. Why was I depriving myself so much? What’s the harm in having a Diet Coke once or twice a week? Surely, that would be an improvement compared to my younger years of gulping down gallons of the cola weekly. So I’ve stuck with this plan, and I’m happier to have rekindled a more positive relationship with my beloved diet drink of choice.

And everything came full circle when I visited the World of Coca-Cola museum in Atlanta, Georgia earlier this month. A fellow T1D friend and I had an absolute field day tasting dozens (and I mean DOZENS) of diet and sugar-free Coca-Cola products. Seriously, that Coca-Cola Freestyle machine is an amazing invention. Without it, we never would’ve discovered how awesome Sprite Zero Strawberry tastes, or how aesthetically alarming diet Fanta products are, with their neon green and purple hues. We felt like diet soda wizards, summoning the most wild flavor combinations from the machine with just a touch of a button. Though our bellies quickly filled up from all the carbonation, we had a blast experimenting with all the zero-sugar possibilities. Plus, learning the history of Coca-Cola and experiencing all the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes made for a fabulously fun afternoon.

Ah, Diet Coke – I admit that I tried to quit you, but you’re just a part of my life. You’ve consoled me through sticky high blood sugars and you’ve been my drink of choice at countless parties and occasions over the years. Thanks for being a loyal pal to this T1D.