Processed sugar is bad for us… But that doesn’t always mean “sugar free” is good. In fact, some ingredients used to replace sugar could be just as bad or worse. Today, let’s look at a classic sugar-free drink—Fresca—to see if it’s really healthy.
Fresca is a calorie-free and sugar-free beverage. However, it has the artificial sweetener aspartame, which may increase risk of cancer, heart disease, mood disorders, and other issues. It also has acesulfame K, another artificial sweetener with potential health risks.
Below, I’ll discuss whether Fresca is a good choice for weight loss, whether it raises blood-sugar levels, and much more. I’ll also compare Fresca with Diet Coke—and with Sprite—to see which is healthier.
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Is Fresca Bad for You?
Here are the 11 specific questions I’ll be answering about Fresca nutrition. Click any of them to skip to that section—or just keep scrolling to read them all:
- What Is Fresca Made Of?
- What Is Fresca Sweetened With?
- Does Fresca Raise Blood Sugar?
- How Much Sodium Is in Fresca?
- Is Fresca Good for Weight Loss?
- Does Fresca Give You Cancer?
- Is Fresca Soda or Sparkling Water?
- Is Fresca Healthier Than Diet Coke?
- Is Fresca Healthier Than Sprite?
- Is Fresca Keto-Friendly?
- Is Fresca Vegan?
1. What Is Fresca Made Of?
Let’s start by looking at what Fresca actually contains. This is the Original, Grapefruit Citrus flavor, but the other flavors are similar:
Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Citric Acid, Concentrated Grapefruit Juice, Potassium Citrate, Aspartame, Potassium Sorbate (To Protect Taste), Acacia Gum, Acesulfame Potassium, Natural Flavors, Glycerol Ester Of Rosin, Potassium Benzoate and Calcium Disodium EDTA (To Protect Taste), Carob Bean Gum. (source)
Here are my takeaway points on these ingredients:
- Fresca is sweetened with aspartame and acesulfame K. These artificial sweeteners are FDA approved, but controversial. Studies have suggested they may be linked to an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, brain disease, mood disorders, insulin resistance, and more. We’ll look more closely at them below.
- Fresca has no artificial colors or “caramel color.” Many zero-calorie drinks contain artificial colors, which are controversial for safety—but Fresca doesn’t have any. Also, compared to colas, Fresca avoids the possible carcinogen associated with “caramel color.”
- Fresca has no phosphoric acid. Phosphoric acid is another one of the bad ingredients often found in colas—it’s been linked to osteoporosis and lower bone density, as well as cavities and tooth decay. But, Fresca doesn’t have it!
- Fresca has several preservatives. These include citric acid, potassium sorbate, potassium benzoate and calcium disodium EDTA. Some people worry about preservatives, but they’re FDA approved, and these ones don’t seem particularly risky.
- Fresca is caffeine free. Caffeine has pros and cons. It actually may reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. But it’s habit forming, and too much can disrupt your sleep or cause other issues—so, you may prefer a caffeine-free drink like Fresca.
Overall, I see fewer problems with Fresca’s ingredients compared to many sodas, especially colas. Fresca doesn’t have the same artificial colors, caramel color, or phosphoric acid.
However, there is still one big concern I have with Fresca—it’s the artificial sweeteners. So let’s take a closer look at those next in the next section.
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2. What Is Fresca Sweetened With?
Fresca contains the artificial sweeteners acesulfame K and aspartame. These are two of the most widely used artificial sweeteners in the world, and both are FDA approved. However, studies have suggested possible links to cancer, heart disease, obesity, stroke, Alzheimer’s, depression, and more.
Let’s start by discussing aspartame, since it’s especially famous and controversial. It’d be hard to cover all of its possible health risks here. If you want to go deep on this subject, you can browse this page from U.S. Right to Know. But I’ll try to summarize.
Some of the biggest concerns with aspartame include:
- Cancer: There has been evidence showing that rodents develop cancer when exposed to aspartame over their lifespan. Aspartame was also posed as a possible explanation for dramatic increases in malignant brain tumors in the years immediately after its approval.
- Heart Disease: Several high-profile cardiologists have sworn off aspartame based on the evidence against this sweetener. A 2014 study found that women who had more than two diet drinks per day experienced more cardiovascular events (like heart attacks).
- Brain Disease: Studies show that consumption of diet drinks is linked to three times higher risk of stroke and dementia. There are also possible connections to Alzheimer’s disease, via methanol, which is a breakdown product of aspartame in the body.
- Obesity: This one may seem ironic, as aspartame is used in many “diet” products. But research has suggested a possible link between aspartame and weight gain, along with increased appetite.
- And more: There have been possible links found between aspartame and headaches, mood disorders, learning problems, kidney function decline, diabetes, pre-term birth, and more. Find a longer list, with sources, here.
Now, what about acesulfame potassium? This sweetener is often referred to as “acesulfame K” or “Ace-K.” Here are some concerns people have with it:
- Studies in the 1970s suggested that acesulfame K may cause cancer—but the studies were of low quality. (source)
- A breakdown product of acesulfame K—acetoacetamide—may cause damage to the thyroid. (source)
- In a study of lactating women, acesulfame K was the artificial sweetener most found to make its way into breast milk. (source)
Overall, remember: The long-term health concerns with artificial sweeteners are just that—concerns. If they were proven to be acutely and definitely unsafe, they would probably not be approved by the FDA and other government bodies around the world.
The important thing is to acknowledge that you’re taking some amount of risk with the artificial sweeteners in Fresca and other zero-calorie drinks. But you may be just fine, especially in moderation.
Personally, I started avoiding aspartame because of some research I found on aspartame and depression. I also worry about how artificial sweeteners affect insulin resistance. Let’s cover that next.
3. Does Fresca Raise Blood Sugar?
I wasn’t able to find research directly on whether Fresca raises blood sugar. However, Fresca has aspartame and acesulfame K, which have been studied in this regard a little.
Artificial sweeteners do not generally raise blood sugar in the short term. Some research suggests they may alter your gut bacteria in a way that worsens your tolerance to carbs on a longer-term basis… But this is not well-confirmed with human studies at this point.
A 2014 study on rats found that “aspartame elevated fasting glucose levels and an insulin tolerance test showed aspartame to impair insulin-stimulated glucose disposal.” This study was conducted over an 8-week period.
I also found some discussions of artificial sweeteners causing insulin issues through another mechanism. That is, the sweet taste could potentially trigger an insulin response even without real sugar in your bloodstream.
So, proceed with caution. If blood-sugar control is crucial for you, I’d recommend testing whether Fresca has any affect for you. Also, keep in mind that some effects on your blood sugar may be delayed, via longer-term changes in your gut bacteria.
- Can Fresca Cause Diabetes? Consumption of artificial sweeteners has been linked to increased risk of type-2 diabetes in several studies. Therefore, it is possible and logical that drinking Fresca regularly could potentially elevate diabetes risk.
4. How Much Sodium Is in Fresca?
Fresca has about 35mg of sodium per 12 fl oz serving (360 mL). This is a little lower than other popular sodas like Sprite and Coca-Cola. One serving of Fresca only has about 1.5% of the daily recommended limit of 2,300 mg of sodium per day.
Here’s a table showing how Fresca’s sodium compares to some other popular drinks:
|Drink||Sodium (per 12 fl oz)|
Of course, if you drink Fresca all day, you could still end up consuming at least several hundred milligrams of sodium from it… So, still be mindful if you’re trying to keep your sodium levels in check.
5. Is Fresca Good for Weight Loss?
One of the reasons people choose zero-calorie drinks like Fresca is to avoid extra calories. But evidence shows that consuming artificial sweeteners is surprisingly ineffective for weight loss. And they may even lead to weight gain.
You’d expect that switching from sugar to zero-calorie sweeteners would cause significant weight-loss… After all, you’re cutting all those calories that you used to drink from sugar, right? But in most studies, they cause little to no weight loss.
Here’s one explanation: Artificial sweeteners keep you accustomed to sweet drinks and food. So you still get cravings for sweets, and you end up eating more calories from something else.
Other explanations have to do with your microbiome—that is, your gut bacteria. In any case, Fresca (and other drinks with artificial sweeteners) may not be the best for weight loss.
But remember: The key to weight loss is your overall diet and calorie balance. One food doesn’t make or break your diet. So if your goal is weight loss, consider tracking your calories, or follow some of these 18 tips for weight loss without counting calories.
Whether you drink Fresca will not make or break your weight-loss journey by itself. But it may be a negative, based on the research connecting aspartame with weight gain.
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6. Does Fresca Give You Cancer?
There is no evidence I could find that directly links Fresca to cancer risk. That said, the artificial sweeteners in Fresca have been linked to possible increases in cancer risk. These include:
Unfortunately, there is not enough long-term research that’s been done to know the impact of these ingredients on cancer risk in humans for sure.
7. Is Fresca Soda or Sparkling Water?
If you look closely on the Fresca label, it is sold as “Sparkling Soda Water.” But what does that really mean? And is that name hiding anything?
The terms “sparkling water” and “soda water” often refer to simple, pure carbonated water. You may also hear this called “seltzer water,” “fizzy water,” or “club soda.” It’s just water, carbonation (bubbles), and maybe a bit of natural flavor or mineral salts.
But if you’re looking for just water and bubbles, you need to be careful. You can also find drinks sold as “sparkling water beverage” (or similar) that do have added sugar or artificial sweeteners. And Fresca is one such drink. (It has artificial sweeteners.)
Personally, I find it misleading for Fresca to be labeled “Sparkling Soda Water.” When I hear “soda water,” I think of club soda, which doesn’t have sweeteners of any kind. But Fresca does have artificial sweeteners.
In my view, the more appropriate label for Fresca would be “diet soda.” When you look at the ingredients, it has multiple artificial sweeteners and preservatives that make it closer to a diet soda than it is to plain club soda.
- Is Fresca hydrating? Does Fresca count as water intake? Fresca is mostly water, so for many purposes, it could count as “water intake.” However, as Fresca also has artificial sweeteners, sodium, and other ingredients, it should not be your only beverage.
8. Is Fresca Healthier Than Diet Coke?
Fresca seems to be healthier than Diet Coke. Both drinks come with potential health risks associated with aspartame, but Diet Coke has two more controversial ingredients—caramel color and phosphoric acid. These ingredients have possible links to increased risk for cancer, osteoporosis, tooth decay, and more.
If you don’t know anything about “caramel color,” you can read about its possible impact on cancer risk here. Phosphoric acid has been linked to several potential issues, including osteoporosis, lower bone density, and cavities—learn more here.
For a healthier carbonated drink, I recommend looking at seltzer water (“sparkling water”). It is generally not sweetened in any problematic way. It simply has water, bubbles, and a natural fruit taste. For example, a popular brand in America now is Bubly.
You can even order Bubly on Amazon here.
9. Is Fresca Healthier Than Sprite?
It’s difficult to compare Fresca with Sprite, health-wise, as they are so different. Really it’s difficult to compare diet soda to regular soda in general. They each come with different problems.
The biggest nutritional concern with Sprite is the sugar and empty calories. The biggest nutritional concern with Fresca is the artificial sweeteners. But which is worse? That may be impossible to answer, with the level of scientific knowledge we currently have.
It’s quite possible that artificial sweeteners in Fresca could be worse for some risks, but the sugar or high-fructose corn syrup in Sprite could be worse for other risks.
The best choice is to mostly avoid both of these drinks. Only drink them occasionally if you want a treat and you’re okay with the downsides they have.
For a healthier carbonated drink, I recommend looking at lime or grapefruit-flavored seltzer water. It is not sweetened in any problematic way. It simply has water, bubbles, and a natural fruit taste. For example, a popular brand in America now is Bubly.
Lime Bubly tastes quite a lot like Sprite, in my opinion. (Avoid the Lime flavor of La Croix, though—I think it’s horrible compared to Bubly.) You can also find grapefruit flavors, if you want something closer to Fresca. You can even order Bubly on Amazon here.
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10. Is Fresca Keto-Friendly?
Fresca is keto-friendly. It is sugar free, and calorie free. It has no cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or other sugars. It has the artificial sweeteners aspartame and acesulfame K instead.
Interestingly, some Fresca labels show 1 gram of carbohydrate, despite showing 0 calories. But in any case, this 1g of carb per serving does not stop Fresca from being keto-friendly. It’s still a very low-carb drink either way.
11. Is Fresca Vegan?
All flavors of Fresca are generally considered vegan. They have no milk, eggs, honey, or other animal byproducts.
The only reason I can imagine that someone would say Fresca isn’t vegan is due to animal testing. The artificial sweeteners in Fresca have been tested on animals extensively.
In my blog post about sucralose, I explained the cruel animal testing that was done to prove the safety of sucralose. It is said that over 12,000 animals died in the testing of sucralose.
Although Fresca does not have sucralose, the same kinds of testing have been done on aspartame and acesulfame K, the sweeteners in Fresca.
That said, boycotting drinks like Fresca today can’t undo the animal testing that was already done. So most vegans are okay with consuming Fresca from an ethical point of view.
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