How Healthy Are the New Soft Drinks?

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

See latest (April 2016) update here from Center for Science in the Public Interest. 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.”

Read more here

Update here to the CSPI Vitaminwater Settlement
April 2016: Agreement Adds “With Sweeteners” to Labels, Prohibits Health Claims in Connection with the Drink
“CSPI’s litigation triggered a number of copycat lawsuits filed in other federal courts, all of whom are parties to the proposed settlement agreement, which is being considered by a federal court in the Southern District of Ohio Western Division. The agreement proposes a $1.2 million payment from Coca-Cola to the lawyers, but substantively only forbids Coca-Cola from making statements in connection with Vitaminwater that it had already stopped making. The agreement also forbids the plaintiffs and their lawyers from communicating about the settlement with any third party—including the news media—without the permission of Coca-Cola.The agreement does not prevent Vitaminwater from continuing to use terms like “focus,” “revive,” and “energy” on labels, nor does it prevent the company from naming various fruits on the label, such as kiwi, strawberry, blueberry, pomegranate, or acai, even though the drinks have no more than one percent of any kind of juice. Vitaminwater “focus kiwi-strawberry,” for instance, has no kiwi juice or strawberry juice. The proposed agreement also would not prevent Coca-Cola from adding vitamins to the product in the first place—even though CSPI’s lawsuit contends that the practice is in violation of the Food and Drug Administration’s prohibition on fortifying junk foods with vitamins.”
See also: 

Diet Soda Concerns
Disturbing History of Aspartame Approval
How Safe is Splenda?

Sonia Mountford

Sonia Mountford lived as an expat in the Middle East for a number of years and enjoyed travelling and exposure to third and first world cultures. Her interest in food security began while visiting in Sri Lanka after floods and discovering the politics around Food Aid. As a co-founder of Grass Consumer Action and the only full time member, she spent four years researching the dysfunctional food system in South Africa, investigating, questioning and exposing misleading claims. Although her interests range from food politics to toxins in our food, including harmful ingredients in processed foods and Big Food influence; she soon came to realize that the most important part of the food journey begins on farms. For that reason she spends much of her time visiting farms, learning and talking about constraints and concerns in production methods with farmers. Passionate about nutritional food security she believes higher animal welfare farming practices are not only necessary for ethical reasons but also for human health. She is an ambassador for SOIL, BEES and healthy WATER. Mountford started EATegrity ( “Helping You Find Integrity in the Food Chain” in 2015. Her aim is create greater consumer awareness about the food chain and to encourage transparency in the South African food industry.

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