Wednesday, May 10, 2006

7up Claims To Be All Natural? Dubious, At Best.

7up has launched a new ad campaign, claiming that 7up is now made up of only all natural ingredients. Five simple, 100% natural ingredients to be precise. An all natural soda? Could this be true, or is it a lie? If someone were to ask me what the five ingredients of an all natural lemon-lime soda would be, I would guess: water, sugar, lemon juice, lime juice and perhaps salt, only because I know that salt is sometimes used in beverages where you wouldn't expect them.

Well, let's take a look at the five ingredients in 100% natural 7up:

Filtered carbonated water
High fructose corn syrup
Natural citric acid
Natural flavors
Natural potassium citrate

Let's take these one at a time. What's the difference between sugar and high fructose corn syrup? Well, for one thing, corn syrup is a lot cheaper, partially because corn is subsidized by the U.S. government. Many people will tell you that a soda made with sugar tastes better than with corn syrup. If you go to the Dr. Pepper museum in Waco, TX you can taste Dr. Pepper made with real cane sugar. Coca-Cola imported from Mexico in glass bottle has become popular because the soda is made with cane sugar there. But back to the original question at hand: Is corn syrup "100% natural"? This is how corn syrup is made:

Stainless steel steep tanks hold about 3,000 bushels of corn for 30 to 40 hours of soaking in 50 degree water. During steeping, the kernels absorb water, increasing their moisture levels from 15 percent to 45 percent and more than doubling in size... As the corn swells and softens, the mild acidity of the steepwater begins to loosen the gluten bonds within the corn and release the starch... starch, suspended in water, is liquified in the presence of acid and/or enzymes which convert the starch to a low-dextrose solution. Treatment with another enzyme continues the conversion process. Throughout the process, refiners can halt acid or enzyme actions at key points to produce the right mixture of sugars like dextrose and maltose for syrups to meet different needs. In some syrups, the conversion of starch to sugars is halted at an early stage to produce low-to-medium sweetness syrups. In others, the conversion is allowed to proceed until the syrup is nearly all dextrose. The syrup is refined in filters, centrifuges and ion-exchange columns, and excess water is evaporated. Syrups are sold directly, crystallized into pure dextrose, or processed further to create high fructose corn syrup. For more, check out this link.

Enzymes, acids, maltodextrin, and dextrose? Doesn't exactly sound 100% natural to me, but I'm not a lawyer. I'm sure 7up paid a lot of lawyers very well to cover their asses on that. But here's another lovely fact about high fructose corn syrup, according to Wikipedia:

A University of Minnesota study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2000 found that fructose "produced significantly higher fasting plasma triacylglycerol values than did the glucose diet in men". The researchers, led by J.P Bantle, concluded that "If plasma triacylglycerols are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, then diets high in fructose may be undesirable.

Let's move on to natural citric acid. This is a preservative found in citrus fruits, and 7up seems pretty clean on this ingredient.

As for "natural flavors," well things are a little dicey here. According to wikipedia

According to the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, a natural flavor is "the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or any other edible portions of a plant, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose primary function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional."
An excerpt from the excellent book Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser:

For the past twenty years food processors have tried hard to use only "natural flavors" in their products. According to the FDA, these must be derived entirely from natural sources -- from herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables, beef, chicken, yeast, bark, roots, and so forth. Consumers prefer to see natural flavors on a label, out of a belief that they are more healthful. Distinctions between artificial and natural flavors can be arbitrary and somewhat absurd, based more on how the flavor has been made than on what it actually contains.

"A natural flavor," says Terry Acree, a professor of food science at Cornell University, "is a flavor that's been derived with an out-of-date technology." Natural flavors and artificial flavors sometimes contain exactly the same chemicals, produced through different methods. Amyl acetate, for example, provides the dominant note of banana flavor. When it is distilled from bananas with a solvent, amyl acetate is a natural flavor. When it is produced by mixing vinegar with amyl alcohol and adding sulfuric acid as a catalyst, amyl acetate is an artificial flavor. Either way it smells and tastes the same. "Natural flavor" is now listed among the ingredients of everything from Health Valley Blueberry Granola Bars to Taco Bell Hot Taco Sauce.

A natural flavor is not necessarily more healthful or purer than an artificial one. When almond flavor -- benzaldehyde -- is derived from natural sources, such as peach and apricot pits, it contains traces of hydrogen cyanide, a deadly poison. Benzaldehyde derived by mixing oil of clove and amyl acetate does not contain any cyanide. Nevertheless, it is legally considered an artificial flavor and sells at a much lower price. Natural and artificial flavors are now manufactured at the same chemical plants, places that few people would associate with Mother Nature.

So what exactly is "natural potassium citrate"? Again we look to wikipedia:

A white, slightly hygroscopic crystalline powder. It is odourless with a saline taste. Uses: Potassium Citrate is rapidly absorbed when given by mouth and is excreted in the urine as the Carbonate. It is... [as a medication] chiefly employed as a non-irritating diuretic (any drug that elevates the rate of bodily urine excretion).
???!!!????! Why is this in the soda?? According to many sites, potassium citrate is sold as a supplement to help those with high blood pressure, and this legal document lists potassium citrate as a "flavor enhancer" and says it is used most often for pH control. It also says that potassium citrate is "synthesized from a concentrated solution of citric acid and potassium hydrogen carbonate." Okey dokey.

So, how do the ingredients in 7up compare to the ingredients in Sprite?

Carbonated water
High fructose corn syrup and/or sucrose
Natural flavors
Citric acid
Sodium citrate
Sodium benzoate

Sucrose is common table sugar. I'd like to give Sprite a bunch of credit for this, but the phrase "and/or" makes it seem like they are not even sure if it is actually in the product. So we'll move on to the other two ingredients that are different from 7up:

Sodium citrate is the sodium salt of citric acid, has a sour and salty taste (sour salt), and is used as a food additive as a preservative and to give drinks a sour taste.

Sodium benzoate is the sodium salt of benzoic acid and is produced by reacting sodium hydroxide with benzoic acid.

It doesn't really seem like 7up is all that different from Sprite, or any other sodas, now does it?

Here's a tip - if you're concerned about only drinking all-natural beverages, choose water, coffee, tea, or juice. If you're picking a mass-market, commercially produced soda for it's health benefits, you've got some problems. I've got nothing against soda - I love a good Dr. Pepper - but the point here is to not be misled by some ridiculous ad campaign. 7up is as high-fructose-corn-syrup-laden as it's been for years.


Curt said...

Hey Mike --
The terms "Natural" and "Organic" don't actually mean anything...

Well, that is, they have meanings, but the Government decides what can be labeled "natural" and what can be labeled "organic".

So, if you have a couple high-paid lobbyists who are working 'round the clock to make sure that "high fructose corn syrup" finds its way into the "natural" list, you'll be allowed to market your product as "100% natural".

Unfortunately, terms like natural don't mean what Webster's once defined them as.

Of course, then there is always George Carlin's view that everything is "natural". Once anything becomes part of nature, doesn't that make it "natural"?

He then went on to muse that maybe the earth needed plastic, so it created us so that we could create plastic for it. Now it has enough plastic and needs to get rid of us, so what does it do?

It says, hey, these humans really seem to like sex and they are prone to viruses...

I'm not that jaded yet... I agree that if you want "natural", drink water.

Catch you later

Tubby said...

Are you saying that ALL Coke sold in glass bottles has sugar rather than corn syrup? And regarding the Potassium citrate, I must be drinking a lot of that because I always have to pee!!!

Mike V said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mike V said...

Hey Tubby, no these are in old-school tall glass bottles, not the mini bottles sold in the U.S.

Check out this article