Soft drink giant Pepsi has released a new soda it says will block fat, reduce bad cholesterol and lead to a healthier you. Problem is, the claims don’t stack up.
The new drink, dubbed Pepsi Special, is said to contain dextrin — essentially an indigestible form of dietary fiber. This, Pepsi’s sole Japanese distributor Suntory claims, means that the body will “block” fat. The gold and black labelled wonder soda apparently can even stop a rise in triglycerides that normally follows a meal, and could, they say, lower blood pressure.
The science backing up these amazing claims is slightly less staggering, though.
Suntory points to a 2006 Japanese study on rats as evidence that their dextrin enhanced sugar and corn-syrup drink can do what they say it can. Indeed, the study of rats did find rats fed dextrin absorbed less fat than those who weren’t.
The Japanese Ministry of Health has reportedly even gone so far as to give Pepsi Special its seal of approval as a health drink, saying it is “intended to be consumed for the maintenance/promotion of health or special health uses by people who wish to control health conditions, including blood pressure or blood cholesterol.”
This isn’t a surprise. Dextrin enhanced drinks sold as “health” products are an increasing feature of the Japanese soft drink market.
There’s just one problem. Most of Pepsi Special’s reported benefits aren’t backed up by science.
Firstly, indigestible dietary fiber is just that — it doesn’t “block” your fat uptake, it simply careens through your body searching for the exit.
What of the weight loss claims? There may be a grain of truth to this potential benefit, but it’s only slight.
A 2001 study by the University of Washington found that adding dextrin to certain foods can allow fiber to do what fiber does best: make you feel fuller for longer. The study calculated that the effect of this might lead to you cutting out as much as 72 calories from your next meal. A 2011 study has also supported the potential benefits of adding dextrin to beverages in order to curb the appetite.
However, saying the drink could lower cholesterol overstates dextrin’s benefits. It is true that some added fibers have been shown to potentially lower LDL cholesterol. However, whether dextrin-laced soft drinks have such a benefit remains to be tested.
In fact, the only supported way that dextrin laced soft drinks might lead to lower cholesterol seems to be through a subsequently (and only slightly) reduced appetite. However, eating less of bad cholesterol-boosting foods as a result of sipping on the soft drink is hardly the panacea Suntory is claiming.
Furthermore, there are the overriding health concerns that accompany soft drinks.
Suntory has yet to release the exact levels of sugar and corn syrup in its new Pepsi Special. We know, however, that people find it incredibly hard to gauge just how much sugar can be in soft drinks and even fruit drinks that would traditionally fall under the bracket of “healthy” alternatives to soda.
This alone should make us pause about any soft drink that claims to be a health product because, if it does nothing to reduce the levels of potentially harm-causing sugars, any of its other claimed health benefits are rendered secondary at best.
Furthermore, there’s a strong body of observational evidence that suggests a casual (but, admittedly, not causal) link between soda consumption and health risks like heart disease, stroke, obesity-related complications such as diabetes and more. To be clear, it is incredibly unlikely that soda consumption alone would lead to these health risks; it is, however, obviously disingenuous to label a soda drink as a health product when there is no proof that these risks have been mitigated.
Dr. Melina Jampolis, a physician nutrition specialist and CCNhealth expert, is quoted as saying that adding synthetic fibers to unhealthy foods and drink is like “putting lipstick on a pig.”
She goes on to say, “It’s true that naturally occurring soluble fiber that’s present in oats, barley, cruciferous vegetables and the stuff in seeds and the skin of apples does help block cholesterol absorption but there’s no publicly available evidence suggesting that synthetic fibers do this too.”
It’s unlikely that Pepsi Special will be in U.S. stores anytime soon, however. Fortified soft drinks masquerading as health products are usually blocked by the FDA. Certainly, Bloomberg would have none of this malarkey.
Image credit: Thinkstock.
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