Happy 30th Birthday, Diet Coke

How the diet soda has changed the way Americans drink

Flickr/ Like_The_Grand_Canyon

Diet Coke, you hardly look a day over 29: this year, the beloved diet soda marks its introduction on to the market 30 years ago. And, as Guardian writer Zoe Williams points out, it's got quite a history. 

What many people don't know is that Diet Coke might even be older than previously thought: the first Coca-Cola branded diet soda, TaB, was on the market long before Diet Coke ruled the vending machines. (We promise we won't share your true age, Diet Coke.) Back in the 60s, no one wanted the word "diet" associated with their Coke drinks. The name TaB comes from the phrase "keeping tabs on your weight," the product aimed at women looking to watch their figure. (Not too unlike its Diet Coke sibling.) The Diet Coke we know today had a name change to include "diet," and spurred on dozens of other diet drinks on the market. 

When it was first introduced, Diet Coke took the ruling spot as the world's No. 1 diet soda — a title it still holds today, according to the Coca-Cola company. (But you can still buy TaB!) And over its 30 years, it's given birth to copycat diet sodas, a whole slew of Diet Coke products (like Coke Zero in 2005), and Diet Coke addicts everywhere. And Diet Coke has certainly had its legions of fans, from Barack Obama, to Bill Clinton, to Elizabeth Edwards. Heidi Klum was the Diet Coke Heart Truth Ambassador. Jean Paul Gaultier dressed up Diet Coke cans and bottles this year. Heck, it even takes its place in books and movies (its first product placement deal with Columbia Pictures in 1985 solidified product placement deals everywhere), like in The House of Sand and Fog: "I drank from my Diet Coke, but it was just sweet empty chemicals down my throat," writes Andre Dubes III. "My Diet Coke arrived. It tasted awful: flat, warm, and mostly syrup. Every component had something missing or something unnecessary," writes Chuck Klosterman in The Visible Man. And who could forget those first commercials with George Michael, Elton John, and Paula Abdul in 1987? 

Diet Coke has had its slumps too, though: take the Diet Coke Plus, a 2007 variation with added nutrients. "Each 8-ounce serving provides 15 percent of your RDI for niacin and vitamins B6 and B12, and 10 percent for zinc and magnesium," says the Coca-Cola website. But the drink hasn't gone over so well as its original Diet Coke. "People didn't want vitamins in their drink, because the last thing you want to be reminded of while you're drinking artificial sweetener is the health-giving bounty of the natural world," writes Williams.  Of course, it can now be assumed that despite the healthy connotations in the name, this is hardly a beverage you drink for your health. Aspartame and other chemicals continue to make nutritionists and researchers ponder soda's effects on health.  

Say what you will about the silver and red can, but it's a little can that has changed how Americans drink. 


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