Humans have been imbibing experimental beverages for over seven thousand years. From Mesopotamian beer to Peruvian mate de coca, drinks have served sociocultural, religious, and even medicinal purposes. In modern Western societies this last use case has in large part been forgotten, or in some cases taken to deleterious excess (e.g. caffeine-loaded energy drinks that may lead to anxiety, or perhaps death). Our most popular beverages, carbonated sodas, are widely known to induce more harm than good: they stain teeth, acidify stomachs, and increase obesity levels.
Given the controversy surrounding these drinks (as evidenced by the reaction to NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s successful ban of jumbo-sized soft drinks), soda companies are looking to diversify their options and, hopefully, in the process will reverse course on their traditional relationship with public health. In the last month, two of the most popular pop makers, Coca Cola and PepsiCo, have announced ‘healthier’ drink options coming through their pipeline. Coca Cola has teamed up with pharmaceutical giant Sanofi to release a line of health drinks called Beautific in select outlets throughout France. While Beautific will not be soda-based (rather composed of fruit juice and mineral water), it does make claims to “help strengthen hair and nails, embellish skin, lose weight and improve vitality,” presumably through the addition of additives such as collagen, stevia, and vitamins.
Perhaps more interesting is PepsiCo’s new drink, Pepsi Special, which was released in Japan earlier this week. Unlike Beautific it is still a carbonated soda, but has one key change: the addition of dextrin, a soluble fiber that has been shown to stabilize blood glucose and lower serum lipids by binding to fat and blocking fat absorption. Since soda is already devoid of fat, the theory conveyed by their commercials (see video below) is that you can eat fatty foods and lower their negative impact on your body if you supplement them with a Pepsi Special. It is important to remember, however, that it is the excess absorbable sugar in soda that often leads to conversion to and deposition of fat.
As with other relatively unregulated health products, it is unlikely that these claims will actually be tested through randomized controlled trials. At a minimum, however, these ‘biomedically-engineered’ drinks appear to signify a shift by the ubiquitous cola industry towards meeting consumer- and political-demand for healthier beverage options.