Can Soft Drinks Be Healthy?
New sodas are aimed at health-conscious consumers but fall short experts say.
The idea of a healthy soft drink may sound like an oxymoron. But to soda
manufacturers, it's the hottest trend in the better-for-you category of food
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.
Soda Sales Sagging
Sales of carbonated drinks have been sagging due to the popularity of
bottled water and noncarbonated drinks like teas, juices, sports drinks, and
"functional" drinks with added ingredients purported to reduce stress
or increase energy.
Soda companies have responded by launching new products and marketing
Some carbonated beverages are now being marketed as "sparkling,"
implying a healthier, more natural beverage. There are caffeine-free,
no-calorie beverages laced with vitamins and minerals, like Diet Coke Plus and
Tava from Pepsi. "Zero-calorie" sodas are aimed at consumers who don’t
like the idea of a "diet" drink. Jazzed-up flavors like
pomegranate, cherry, vanilla, lemon, lime, and caramel are also making their
way into soft drinks.
“The beverage industry believes that all beverages, including carbonated
soft drinks, can be part of a healthy and balanced lifestyle,” says Tracey
Halliday, spokeswoman for the American Beverage Association. She points
out that many of the beverage industry’s products, including bottled waters,
juices, sports drinks, and diet soft drinks, can be catalysts to health and
How Healthy Are the New Soft Drinks?
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
"It is ridiculous to market soft drinks as healthy, but in today’s
marketplace consumers are demanding more healthylooking food,
and beverages and soft drink manufacturers need to boost sales," she
Most consumers do not need the extra vitamins found in fortified soft
drinks, she adds.
"We are not vitamin deficient, and these beverages do not address the
real health issues of our country of obesity, heart disease, or cancer,"
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."
Johnson advises consumers to choose beverages that not only quench thirst
but also deliver needed nutrients, such as 100% fruit juice and skim or low-fat
"These beverages will help you meet your nutritional needs and satisfy
the recommendations of the [U.S. government's] 2005 Dietary Guidelines,"