How Healthy Are the New Soft Drinks?

Consumer News Update

by Sonia de Villers, Grass Food Researcher

With all the attention on obesity and health, consumers are looking for healthier, more natural beverages.  And manufacturers are hoping to perk up sagging soda sales with new “healthy” soft drinks spiked with vitamins and minerals and marketed with natural-sounding terms. Beverages are also now being marketed as “sparkling” instead of carbonated, implying a healthier, more natural beverage but how much healthier are these fruit-flavoured sparkling waters and beverages?

The truth is that artificially sweetened soft drinks – even those fortified with vitamins and minerals –  are anything but natural and healthy, says Marion Nestle, New York University nutrition professor and author of What to Eat.

“It is ridiculous to market soft drinks as healthy, but in today’s marketplace consumers are demanding more healthy looking food, and beverages and soft drink manufacturers need to boost sales,” she says. Most consumers do not need the extra vitamins found in fortified soft drinks, she adds.

University of Vermont researcher Rachel Johnson, PhD, RD, agrees. “It concerns me that we have so many ultra-fortified products where we virtually put a vitamin pill into a soft drink,” she says.  “The nutrients put into these soft drinks are not the shortfall nutrients that are lacking in our diets such as calcium, potassium, folate, or vitamin D.”

And keep in mind, Johnson says, that soft drinks have no place in the diets of children 11 and under.

“Soft drinks do not belong in young children’s diets,” says Johnson. “Because they need so many nutrients for growth and development, there is little room for soft drinks unless they are extremely active — and even then it should only be an occasional treat.”

Coca-Cola’s Sugar-Laden Vitaminwater Lawsuit to Proceed

Coca-Cola is one step closer to a trial over claims that it fraudulently markets “vitaminwater” as a healthful alternative to soda. In July 2013, a federal magistrate recommended to a federal district court that the suit, first filed in January 2009, may proceed as a class action.

Coca-Cola paid over $4.2 billion in cash to buy the brand from Glaceau back in 2007, which is now being sold in 15 markets worldwide, including France, China and South Africa.

As reported by the Daily Mail, the Vitaminwater beverage claims to do everything from aid in weight loss to promote vision health. But, while the maker is quick to promote the vitamins they throw in, they aren’t so forthcoming about the sugar.

Such mixed-message marketing has caused one food-health advocacy group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), to lead a class action claiming that Coca-Cola is violating consumer-protection laws with its Vitaminwater brand. According to CSPI nutritionists, Vitaminwater’s sugar content more than offsets any advertised health benefits provided by the nutrients in the drink. “They added vitamins to crap,” says Stephen Gardner, chief litigator for CSPI. “And it’s still crap. Consumers shouldn’t have to assume that the front of a label is a lie. You cannot deceive in the big print and tell the truth later.”

The group achieved a victory in 2010, when a US federal judge tossed out Coke’s motion to dismiss the case. In a strongly worded 55-page opinion, Judge John Gleeson of the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn said the health claims on some Vitaminwater bottles may be in violation of FDA regulations since the drink “achieves its nutritional content solely through fortification that violates FDA policy.” The judge thinks Coke could be violating the so-called jellybean rule, which says that a food- or drinkmaker cannot load otherwise unhealthy products with vitamins or other nutrients in order to claim it is healthy. A sugar product is a sugar product: you can’t say a jellybean fights heart disease because it contains no cholesterol.

Coke responded to the judge’s ruling in a statement. “Vitaminwater is a great tasting, hydrating beverage with essential vitamins and water — and labels clearly showing ingredients and calorie content,” the company said.

CSPI Michael F. Jacobson, executive director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said, “The marketing of vitaminwater will go down in history as one of the boldest and brashest attempts ever to affix a healthy halo to what is essentially a junk food, a non-carbonated soda. Vitaminwater, like Coca-Cola itself, promotes weight gain, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cannot deliver on any of the dishonest claims it has made over the years.”

See also: 

Diet Soda Concerns

Disturbing History of Aspartame Approval

How Safe is Splenda?


Helping you find integrity in the food chain


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