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Soda’s Sweet Spot

July 27, 2012

Keep your laws of my soda. If the state can regulate the size of a soft drink, just think about what they could do to cocktails. Or perhaps the grams of saturated fat anyone could be served at a restaurant. Life would be so sad if New York took my deep fried Buffalo burger away from me. Granted it’s a very special treat and I only have one every eighteen months or so, but I would miss it terribly.

Still, I understand where regulators come from. Something must be done.

Recently I was at the mall and observed an alarming interaction between a small girl and someone who appeared to be her grandmother. The adult casually handed the girl a giant cup of soda. How giant? It was about the size of her forearm and four times as wide around. My guess is that it must have been 32 ounces of soda.

And far from being amazed by her newfound bounty of liquid candy, the little girl blithely slipped the straw in her mouth and started sucking as she walked. It was clearly apparent that this was not a special treat for either of them. No smiles were cracked. There was no noticeable joy. This was an everyday act of hydration.

Now there is no reason to think that this skinny little girl is on the fast track to obesity. But at the same time, this normalizing of soda as something to drink whenever you are thirsty, could indeed cause long term problems. Maybe not now. But perhaps later as her metabolism slows down. And if not for her, then for others like her.

Fear not, the soda industry is working on solutions.

Thanks to chef Ric Orlando’s twitter feed, I found this article. It apparently made his blood boil, although he wasn’t quite so clear on the specifics. Here’s the topic sentence to the news story, “Coke and Pepsi are chasing after the sweet spot: a soda with no calories, no artificial sweeteners and no funny aftertaste.”

For the record, the soda companies do not find high fructose corn syrup to be an artificial sweetener. Neither does the FDA.

But the idea is that if soda manufacturers can create a beverage that won’t make you fat, and tastes great, without being filled with questionable artificial ingredients, maybe the government will lay off banning their products and cutting into their profits.

Except one cannot ignore the reports that diet soda makes you fat. And the uncertain safety of natural plant based sweeteners in large quantities is also concerning. Which leads me to believe soda companies are barking up the wrong tree.

As someone who is used to tilting at windmills, I recognize the pathology.

You want to know the funniest part? Instead of traveling the world looking for exotic natural ingredients to make their sodas sweet, like miracle fruit, the answer to their problems is much easier.

Soda doesn’t have to be calorie neutral to be an accepted part of the American diet.

Bear with me for a moment, while I lay this out. A twelve ounce can of Coke has 140 calories. That’s over nine teaspoons of sugar per can. If you dissolved that much sugar into twelve ounces of water, it would be undrinkable. The only reason Coke is palatable is because the sugar is balanced by phosphoric acid.

Think about lemonade. If it’s too sweet, you can do two things. You can add more lemon, which just like phosphoric acid, cuts the sweetness. Alternatively, you can add more water which dilutes the flavor.

Or you could have used less sugar in the first place.

The answer is as simple as making a line of sodas that is simply less sweet. Don’t call it Coke. Call it Coke Dry. Use real cane sugar instead of the high fructose corn syrup. I suspect a 70 calorie can of Coke Dry would be plenty sweet. And if 70 isn’t a good number for marketing, package it in eight ounce bottles and make the claim that it is less than 50 calories.

It would have none of the nasty off flavors from non-sugar sweeteners. It would satisfy those who want people to consume fewer calories through soft drinks. Dieters would have a lower calorie product that would not sabotage their diets. Everybody wins.

And I bet it would be refreshing as all get out.

People will tell you they want a delicious soda with no calories. They will also tell you they want cars that fly. And they never told anyone they wanted iPods. People are awful at knowing what they want or what will make them happy. The marketing people at the soda companies need to get their heads out of their focus groups and look at what’s happening around them.

They need a way out from being a high fructose corn syrup delivery device. And a less sweet version of their product made with real sugar, could be just the answer. But please remember to avoid legislating the high octane stuff away. Because next they may come after something you like. So let’s be tolerant, and push for better alternatives.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. mattVSmatthew permalink
    July 27, 2012 8:12 am

    Coke Dry….I like that.

  2. July 27, 2012 8:37 am

    My manly 10 year old and I are big fans of Dr. Pepper Ten, which we import from TX since it’s hard to find up here. We had been kidding ourselves that it was not an evil product; the 10 calories means just enough real vs artificial sweetener, right? But you sent me scurrying to the internets where I found this which confirms it still has the artificial sweeteners but also has 10 calories of HFCS added gratuitously because men don’t like diet drinks. O those demons!

    That Men’s Health link is pretty lame though. It doesn’t really say how diet soda makes you fat. More research is needed, by you, don’t you think? (that is a question)

    • Kerosena permalink
      July 30, 2012 1:29 pm

      @Burnt: Dr. Pepper Ten is sold at Price Chopper. I’ve purchased it at the 20 Mall PC, the Western Ave PC near Crossgates and the Slingerlands PC. We did read the label before purchasing, though :)

      The following may explain why you can only find lame links about the “diet soda makes people gain weight” study:

      I was unable to find any working links to the actual San Antonio presentation.

      • July 30, 2012 1:46 pm

        Perhaps that’s true. But your citation comes from The Calorie Control council. Who? In their own words, “The Calorie Control Council, established in 1966, is an international association representing the low- and reduced-calorie food and beverage industry.”

        You know, the people who have a vested interest in getting people to consumer more zero-calorie sweeteners.

      • Kerosena permalink
        July 31, 2012 11:58 am

        Ha! Good point, Daniel…I guess I missed that bit of info!

  3. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    July 27, 2012 10:42 am

    THE CAUSE of American obesity is not fat, not meat: it is SUGAR, and most of that is in the form of soda. Do not drink soda!

    • July 27, 2012 11:26 am

      Sugar is insidious in the American diet. Jarred tomato sauce? Check. Bottled salad dressing (including so called natural and organic). Check. Commercial bread? Check. Yogurt? Check. Cereal? Check. Pretty much all prepared foods in the supermarket? Check, check, check.
      Just try eliminating sugar from your diet without making everything you consume from scratch. It’s near impossible.

      I think if people ate more consciously and maybe spent a couple of days using a calorie counter, they would be floored by the amount of sugar they actually consume versus what they think they consume.

      Do I have a soda from time to time? Yes, maybe a couple of times a year. Is it unnecessary? Absolutely. Can we live without it? We probably should learn to.

  4. July 27, 2012 11:35 am

    But if they add too much sugar, then balance it with extra acidity … do they really need to make a less-sweet soda, necessarily? Or couldn’t they just cut some of the sugar, cut some of the acidity they add and have it come out tasting about the same? Maybe it’s just the wording that’s getting me — “dry” to me implies not very sweet, like Canada Dry, the harshest kind of ginger ale.

  5. July 27, 2012 1:18 pm

    My ears always twitch when I hear the soda conversation come up. I’ll come out first and say that I don’t think soda or HFCS are inherently bad for you on their own. That said, I believe that these products are consumed in this country in such a way that they become harmful to some people.

    Many studies show that most people consume a negligible amount of soda per week. However, they also show that there are a select group of consumers that consistently abuse soda/synthetic sugars. I think this is the problem we really need to be worried about, not soda or HFCS. Giving these two products a bad name is easy since they do create a problem for those select consumers, not just anyone who consumes it. In my mind, this issue can be analyzed in an economic framework. Here is how I see it:

    The cost of soda doesn’t fully reflect it’s total price. By total price I mean the actual dollar cost of delivering soda to the consumer, plus any externalities involved with the delivery of said product. In this case we have a group of consumers that become sick from their consumption behavior. (Obesity is a sickness after all.) This will surely cost society something in the future because sick people have a negative effect on the economy. I believe that these extrenalities are not encapsulated in the price, and therefore the price of soda is cheaper than what it actually costs society.

    I believe that taxation on soda is the most effective way to bring the price at the store back to the total price of the good. This also shifts the cost of the externality onto the consumer of the good, and not onto society itself. If someone want’s to get obese from abusing soda and sugars they will have to pay more to do it. In the end you will have people consuming less of the stuff, or at the very least paying for their negative effect to society. (A nice analog to this argument is the taxation on cigarettes to fund future costs of healthcare due to smoking.)

    I know there are people that hate taxation, and I get it. I don’t want to spend 50 cents more on my soda to make a rum and coke. If it is between a more healthy populous and the 50 cents though, I will gladly pay up.

  6. July 27, 2012 1:23 pm

    The key is moderation (in all things, really) – a concept with which many people today seem to have trouble. I don’t agree with imposing laws that mandate reduced soda sizes, but I do think public service announcements and such – education in general – might go a long way toward reaching someone like that grandmother and convincing her to buy the regular soda rather than the supersized version.

    As for the cane sugar – I don’t drink a lot of soda, but when I do I try to get the glass-bottled Mexican version of Coke, which is in fact made from cane sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup. It may be available at the Mexican Market in Albany – I’m not sure.

    • maryonhudson permalink
      July 30, 2012 1:45 pm

      Mexican coke is often in Walmart

  7. July 27, 2012 2:28 pm

    I like bubbly water. Let us all drink bubbly water like the Germans, maybe mix it with some fruit juice once in a while if you are feeling crazy. I am an ex-diet pepsi addict and find bubbly water to be an acceptable replacement (sort of).

    Also, I don’t think that diet pepsi makes you fat as I am not fat and I drank an awful lot of the stuff. I think that when I get a pit paunchy, beer is the likely culprit. Isn’t it funny that they are trying to do the same sort of thing (calorie reduction) with American style beer? I drank one of those “64.5” calorie jobbers (or whatever they are) and it gave me a headache.

  8. christine permalink
    July 27, 2012 4:40 pm

    I love soda. I am even “fussy” about it… I would rather have a Coke or Pepsi from the fountain, not in a can or bottle. I probably have one every day and it hasn’t made me fat yet. But, I have a small one. And, I drink alot of water (especially in the summer) and if I feel the need for bubbles, I have a flavored seltzer. When I see those big giant cups of soda I have to shake my head. By the time I drank a soda that size, it would be a warm, watery mess.

    So, stop hating on soda and worry more about the obese person in front of you at a fast food joint who orders the biggest, most fattening thing on the menu and then gets a giant diet coke to wash it all down. It isn’t just one thing making America fat, it’s a collection of bad food choices made by people who also don’t move around enough during the day.

  9. August 1, 2012 8:29 am

    It’s great that people are thinking about this, but the logistics of formulating a soda go much deeper than what you laid out here. It’s not a matter of just adding some phosphoric acid to balance out the sweetness and vice versa. Once you start making changes to the formulation, everything goes out of whack. Flavor, viscosity, pH, perceived sweetness, solubility. It’s not as easy as saying, “ok, just use less sugar or a different sugar and problem solved.”

    One of the driving forces for moving to high fructose corn syrup was its miscibility with water. It’s process-friendly; volumes of HFCS liquid can be added to vats of acidified water and generate a stable soda solution without anything crashing out. I implore you to actually try to dissolve 9 teaspoons of table sugar into 12 oz of seltzer or club soda. Actually, start small and see how many go right into solution. You’ll be surprised how few it is. Imagine that on a large scale, where things go awry much easier.

    I don’t want to sound like I’m on board with mass consumption of drinks loaded with HFCS. Since going to school and becoming educated, I’ve found that things like Coke and Pepsi don’t fit well into my normal life balance if I want to be fit. It is a problem that people don’t realize how little it takes to make an impact on their metabolisms. But I want to make it clear that there’s much more science involved in what soda companies do than what you propose.

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