I’ve long held that most bottled water is a scam either because it’s simply way overpriced or because it’s falsely and/or misleadingly advertised as being good for you thanks to some added ingredient gimmick its marketers came up with. In fact, I previously wrote Water: A scambuster report,
which deals with the issues of cost, the amount of water you need to drink each day, and safety (as in which is safer, tap or bottled water?). So it came as no surprise to me, and with a resounding “here, here” when I learned that the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI)
had sued the Coca-Cola company for “deceptive and unsubstantiated claims” on its vitaminwater line of beverages. The vitaminwater products are made by a company Coke owns called “glacÃ©au,” which, according to the Coca Cola website is never capitalized, even at the beginning of a sentence (and neither is vitaminwater, which is also written as one word – marketing, go figure).
Needless to say, the folks at Coke had some choice words of their own about the CSPI lawsuit: “This is a ridiculous and ludicrous lawsuit. glacÃ©au vitaminwater is a great tasting, hydrating beverage with essential vitamins and water, with labels showing calorie content.” Even their response is misleading. Try to think of a beverage that isn’t “hydrating.” And while the products do contain “essential vitamins,” the implication is that they contain most, if not all of them, which is far from true. Each of the various vitaminwater flavors contains some percentage of some mixture of some vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and/or other ingredients. You’d have to study each label individually to figure out what’s what, which is essentially what this entire lawsuit is about.
The CSPI says that “Coke markets VitaminWater [sic] as a healthful alternative to soda by labeling its several flavors with such health buzz words as “defense,” “rescue,” “energy,” and “endurance.” The company makes a wide range of dramatic claims, including that its drinks variously reduce the risk of chronic disease, reduce the risk of eye disease, promote healthy joints, and support optimal immune function. While it is true that vitamins do play various roles in the human body, the statements on VitaminWater [sic] labels go far beyond even the loose, so-called “structure/function claims” allowed by the Food and Drug Administration and cross the line into outright fraud, according to CSPI.”
In other words, the CSPI is attacking the marketing hype on the products’ bottles and website, the words that most consumers will see and read first (if not only). Coke, in its defense, says that “Consumers can readily see the nutrition facts panels on every bottle of glacÃ©au vitaminwater, which show what’s in our product and what’s not.” In other words the fine print, so to speak – it’s not really that small, but how many people carefully and fully read the nutrition facts panels on the back compared to all those who read the promotional claims on the front?
What CSPI wants you to know is that vitaminwater contains a lot of sugar, precious little real fruit juice and a hodge-podge of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that you’d be better off consuming either through your normal diet or by taking a comprehensive daily multivitamin product. “My advice to consumers is to get your vitamins from real food,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “If you have reason to believe you have a shortcoming of one vitamin or another, perhaps take an inexpensive supplement. But don’t seek out your vitamins in sugary soft drinks like Coke’s VitaminWater [sic].”
Speaking of sugar, you might be interested to know that each eight ounce serving of vitaminwater contains 13 grams of sugar and provides 50 calories. Moreover, since each bottle is 20 ounces, that’s more like 32.5 grams of sugar and 125 calories. For comparison, eight ounces of classic Coke contain 27 grams of sugar, which provide 97 calories, so ounce for ounce vitaminwater’s about half as sugary as classic Coke. And according to CSPI nutritionists, “the 33 grams of sugar in each bottle of VitaminWater [sic] do more to promote obesity, diabetes, and other health problems than the vitamins in the drinks do to perform the advertised benefits listed on the bottles.”
Another thing the CSPI wants you to know is that even though vitaminwater products look for all the world as though they are juice drinks, “VitaminWater [sic] contains between zero and one percent juice, despite the full names of the drinks, which include “endurance peach mango” and “focus kiwi strawberry,” and “xxx blueberry pomegranate acai,” among others. A press release for the “xxx” drink claims its antioxidants makes the drinker “last longer” in some unspecified way; in any event, it has no blueberry, pomegranate, or acai juice, nor do the others have any cranberry, grapefruit, dragon fruit, peach, mango, kiwi, or strawberry juice.”
Since Coke can’t deny that its vitaminwater products contain a lot of sugar, no juice and an incomplete smattering of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, they came up with this brilliant counterargument: “Filing a lawsuit is an opportunistic PR stunt. This is not about protecting the public interest. This is about grandstanding at a time when CSPI is receiving very little attention. There is no surprise that one week before the inauguration of the U.S. President, with the flurry of activity in Washington, D.C., that CSPI has chosen today to try to bring attention to themselves.” Huh? The CSPI is calling attention to itself in the midst of the activity surrounding the presidential inauguration? And that’s no surprise to Coca-Cola? No wonder they believe that vitaminwater is good for you: “Put simply, glacÃ©au vitaminwater is a great complement to our often less-than-perfect diet with each of the different glacÃ©au vitaminwater varieties providing a convenient, great-tasting way to get more of some of the vitamins and hydration we all need each day.”
Here’s another way to get “more of some of the vitamins and hydration we all need each day,” eat a balanced diet and take a complete multivitamin and mineral tablet and wash it down with a glass of tap water. If you buy generic multivitamins in large containers each tablet only costs you a few pennies and provides far more than any bottle of vitaminwater. You’ll save at least a dollar on the vitamins and the free glass of water will save you 125 calories for every bottle of vitaminwater you leave on the shelf. The choice is yours.
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