The Truth Behind Pepsi’s ‘Fat-Blocking’ Soda

Pepsi, Coca-Cola are attempting to boost sales overseas with outrageous health claims.

Pepsi is adding dextrin to a new line of sodas in Japan with claims that it will block fat from being absorbed by the body. Not surprisingly, nutritionists and dietitians are skeptical. (Photo by: Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Steve Holt is a regular contributor to TakePart. He writes about food for 'Edible Boston,' 'Boston Magazine,' 'The Boston Globe,' and other publications.

They sound like headlines from The Onion, but sadly, they’re not.

In Japan, Pepsi is releasing a soda it claims will block fat from being absorbed by the body. Coca-Cola says its new French soda will make you beautiful.

FoxNews.com reported earlier this week that Pepsi is putting dextrin, a fiber supplement that makes it difficult for the body to absorb fat while eating, into a new soda being sold in Japan. Starting this week, Pepsi Special, as it’s called, will be sold for $1.87 per bottle and—get this—has actually been sanctioned by the Japanese government as a “food for specified health uses.”

But nutritionists here in the U.S. aren’t buying it.

“It sounds crazy to me,” says New York City nutrition consultant Keri Gans. “I don’t understand why they promote it as ‘fat blocking’ when soda is 100 percent sugar. There is no fat in soda!”

She adds that she’s never heard of dextrin being a fat-blocking supplement. Nutritionist Lisa R. Young says that consumed with an especially high-fat meal, the drink may block a negligible amount of fat, but that “it will probably not offset the calories you add from drinking the soda. After all, the soda is not calorie-free.”

In targeting the Japanese with a “healthier” soda, Pepsi knows what it’s doing. The Japanese drink less soda than almost any other developed nation —just 21.6 liters per person, per year, according to data compiled by the Global Market Information Database. The average American, by contrast, consumes 216 liters of soda per year—tops in the world.

Pepsi Special isn’t the first of its kind in Japan, either. Earlier this year, beverage maker Kirin began selling Kirin Mets Cola, which contains a similar type of dextrin and also claims to block fat absorption. Surprisingly, the product sold well, perhaps leading Pepsi into developing one of its own.

Like Pepsi, Coca-Cola has been on an international “health kick” as well, and it’s making some equally outrageous claims to sell its products. The world’s leading soft drink maker is reportedly working on a line of drinks in France that it claims will make the consumer more beautiful. Partnering with a French drug company known for making health and beauty products, Coke’s new line will launch in a limited market segment. While Coca-Cola has not yet released any statements about the new line or its beautification promise, nutrition experts are not shy about speaking up.

“There is absolutely nothing beautiful about soda—plain and simple,” Gans says.

It’s no secret that in response to widespread concern about the link between soda consumption and obesity and diabetes, companies are working on offering healthier products and promoting healthy activity. On Coca-Cola’s website in the United Kingdom, a calorie counter tells consumers how they can burn off the calories gained by drinking each of its products. (If you drink a can of Coke, the website recommends activities like walking [slowly] for 30 minutes; yoga or pilates for 32 minutes; vacuuming for 51 minutes; or salsa dancing for 21 minutes.)

But to some, such efforts are too little too late and appear eerily similar to the anti-smoking campaigns from cigarette companies over the last decade. And whatever the benefits (or health neutrality) of soda companies’ less harmful offerings, the profits still go to corporations for whom high-sugar, high-calorie drinks will always be the flagship products around the world.

“It’s just a ploy to sell more soda,” Young says.

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