New Soft Drinks Better for Your Health

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A new line of beverages from Coke and PepsiCo are headed to your grocery store's shelves.

Makers of these new "sparkling beverages" claim they taste great and won't add to your waistline.

The drinks will carry an extra boost of vitamins and minerals -- like iron, magnesium, and vitamins B-6 and B-12.

While promotions hail the drinks as a healthy choice to quench your thirst, experts have some doubts.

A New Take on Old Soda

Thus far, Coca-Cola is remaining tight-lipped about their product. Scott Williamson, a public affairs officer with Coca-Cola North America, confirmed that the new beverage, dubbed Diet Coke Plus, will probably be formally announced this spring.

Dave DeCecco, spokesperson for Pepsi Cola North America, said his company's product, named TAVA, was developed in order to meet consumer demand for such a product.

"People are demanding something with a kind of benefit in some ways," DeCecco said, adding that products like this are well received by consumers as they "help them manage their lives."

DeCecco said that the product represents only the latest offering in the trend toward vitamin-fortified beverages. "It's really already been happening. If you look at all of the products out there, there really has been more focus on lower calorie offerings and added benefits."

Can a Soft Drink Be Healthy?

Soft drinks are increasingly named as culprits in the growing obesity epidemic. This new option is bound to draw appeal among the health-conscious crowd, and create a lot of confusion in the beverage aisle.

"It's going to be more important than ever to read the labels," said Jackie Newgent, a nutrition communications consultant in New York.

When the nutrition label has a high number in the vitamin column, that doesn't mean it's healthy. What everyone should remember, said Newgent, is "liquid calories are still calories."

"These products are not going to all of a sudden make your diet healthy," said Gregory Miller from the National Dairy Council. "I am concerned that these beverages would replace other nutrient-containing beverages."

According to Newgent, those looking to lose weight and stay healthy should stick to more natural products, such as water or tea.

However, for those who just can't put down that soft drink, this step by the beverage industry is a positive one.

"It can be like a weaning process," said Newgent. "This may be an option for those people to get them onto a healthier diet."

Overfortification

Many nutritionists question whether it's necessary to add additional vitamins and nutrients to beverages.

"I'm a little concerned about the capricious and rampant fortification of our food supply," said Miller. "As a nutritionist, I would hope that we would look to getting nutrition from foods that naturally contain these nutrients."

There has been little research into the possibly negative impacts of such fortification, particularly if the nutrients are not required in the level that they are present in these beverages.

For example, one of the additives to the new PepsiCo product is chromium, a mineral some have linked to boosting a person's metabolism and enhancing weight loss. According to the Mayo Clinic, however, there is no known information on the long-term side effects of chromium.

"If a consumer feels the need for more vitamins and minerals," Newgent said, "I would hope they choose natural foods, like fruits and veggies, for that."

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