In February 2019, I wrote about the introduction of nutritionally fortified artificial sweeteners. Merisant launched a new zero calorie sweetener called Sugarly Sweet exclusively on Amazon in late January 2019, and has also created a brand-new line of artificial sweeteners fortified with vitamins and minerals.1
The fortified sweeteners are sold under the company’s Equal Plus brand, and are available in three versions: vitamin C and zinc;2 vitamins B3, B5 and B12;3 or vitamins C and E.4
The products are marketed as a “good source” of these nutrients, as a single packet provides 10% of the daily recommended value of the added vitamins and minerals. Clearly, this is nothing more than a marketing ploy.
Similarly, The Coca-Cola Co. is now seeking permission to add vitamins to various drinks in its assortment, but make no mistake — adding vitamins and minerals does absolutely nothing to change the detrimental impact these products have on your health, be it artificial sweeteners or sugary beverages.
Coca-Cola wants FDA to ease up on fortification rule
For decades, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has discouraged “indiscriminate addition of nutrients to foods,” including and especially pertaining to “snack foods such as candies and carbonated beverages.”5
Coca-Cola is now pushing the FDA to ease up on this so-called “jelly bean rule” (so called because companies cannot fortify candy such as jelly beans for the purpose of making a health claim). The reason for this FDA guideline is fairly obvious. It’s there to prevent food and beverage manufacturers from marketing junk food as healthy.
In an October 24, 2018, article6 for FOOD Navigator-USA, editor Elaine Watson reported that Coca-Cola has asked the FDA to update its fortification policy “to reflect changes in consumers’ dietary patterns and innovation in the marketplace.”
According to Coca-Cola, the jelly bean guideline damages the company’s “ability to innovate with new carbonated water, tea and juice beverages.” The primary intent behind the request, Coca-Cola claims, is to fortify sparkling beverages, not to add vitamins to soda, snack foods or beverages with “significant amounts of added sugar.”
Interestingly, Coca-Cola is already marketing Vitaminwater which, as its name implies, is fortified water — with plenty of added sugar. As noted by Marion Nestle in a July Food Politics post:7
“Some Vitamin Waters have as much sugar as a Coke. They have Nutrition Facts labels and are marketed as foods, and look to me to be in violation of the jelly bean rule. The FDA hasn’t done anything about them, even though they are vitamin-enriched sugar water. If you have any idea why not, please tell me.”
Indeed, the only difference between Vitaminwater and the type of beverages Coca-Cola is now asking permission to fortify is carbonation. Carbonated beverages “can be beneficial options in a person’s diet, so it is recommended that FDA recognize that the simple addition of carbonation should not prohibit the sale of a product under the fortification guideline,” Coca-Cola told the FDA.8
The company is also asking the FDA to expand antioxidant claims. At present, antioxidant claims can only be made for substances for which there are established daily values. Coca-Cola would like the agency to expand this rule to include substances that have “substantiated antioxidant activity that do not have an established recommended DV.”
The latest fad: Functional junk food
Candy makers are also trying to weasel more nutrients into candy in an effort to give the sweet stuff an aura of healthiness. Nestle offered several examples of candy makers taking a page out of the snack foods’ marketing book in a June 2018 post.9Among them:
- Rainmaker’s chocolate products, which contain nuts and protein as “functional” ingredients “to give consumers an energy boost”10
- Supertreats, which mimics chocolate using carob powder instead, along with “minimally processed superfood ingredients such as chia seeds and blueberries for a nutritional boost”11
- Get More Multivitamin Chewing Gum — said to provide 25% of your recommended daily allowance of 10 vitamins after 20 minutes of chewing12
Then there’s vitamin gummy bears — a tantalizing mixture of candy and vitamin supplement marketed to kids and adults alike. As noted by Nestle,13 vitamin gummies have managed to circumvent the FDA’s jelly bean guideline by being marketed as a supplement rather than candy, although it could reasonably be argued to be both. But are gummy vitamins all they’re cracked up to be? In short, no. There are several reasons to avoid them the way you would candy.