Diet Coke Plus raises FDA's ire

WASHINGTON, D.C.; December 25, 2008

But now, soft drink giant Coca-Cola's new marketing push for Diet Coke Plus may be an effort to stake a sweet claim in the health food realm.

The labeling of the no-calorie soft drink, which contains niacin, vitamins B6 and B12, zinc and magnesium, has already raised the ire of the Food and Drug Administration, specifically for the use of the word "Plus."

"Based on our review, we have concluded that this product is in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act," reads a letter from the FDA to Coca-Cola. "Your Diet Coke Plus product is misbranded ... because the product makes a nutrient content claim but does not meet the criteria to make the claim."

Neither do nutrition experts appear to be buying into what they say appears to be an effort to slap a healthy label on a beverage of questionable nutritive value. Here's what Dr. David Katz, director and co-founder of the Yale Prevention Research Center, had to say in an e-mail to the ABC News Medical Unit:

"To the extent of my familiarity with the FDA regulations, I believe that Coca-Cola is 'technically' correct: they have stated their product contains added vitamins and minerals, and indeed, it does. And I'm not sure FDA regulations extend to the use of 'plus' in a product name, without any specific health claim."

But Katz adds that the move by Coca-Cola may reveal an unfortunate marketing trend:

"What makes this interesting is that FDA is invoking regulations that may or may not directly fit this scenario to address what is clearly a concerning trend: nutrient-fortified everything. I fully agree with the FDA's position on this. ... Adding some nutrients to an otherwise questionable food -- and soda is VERY questionable food -- does not change its basic character."

Alice Lichtenstein, senior scientist and director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University, adds in her own e-mail that consumers may do best to get their nutrients the old-fashioned way -- through the foods that naturally contain them.

"With the exception of unusual circumstances, we are best served if we get nutrients from foods, not supplements, even if the supplements are dissolved in a beverage. Foods have fiber, phytonutrients and other compounds that are associated with decreased risk of chronic diseases. The supplements, regardless of form (pill or beverage), do not contain these compounds."

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