Calorie-burning: the future of diet drinks?

Related tags Soft drink Coca-cola High-fructose corn syrup Caffeine

The maker of a new functional beverage that claims to burn calories
by increasing metabolism says products with net negative calories
are the next step in the evolution of the diet drinks market. But
can consumers be assured that they work and, more importantly, that
they are safe, asks Jess Halliday.

Elite FX, the company behind the Celsius drink available only in Florida, presented the results of a clinical study at the International Society of Sports Nutrition Conference in New Orleans last weekend.

The study was conducted at the Ohio Research group of Exercise Scientists and Sports Nutrition and forms a key part of the company's consumer marketing strategy.

"The double blind placebo controlled study, considered the research 'gold standard', demonstrated that Celsius does indeed burn calories, even while study participants were lying down for three hours,"​ said the company in a statement.

Twenty healthy men and women were randomly assigned to two groups. One group received 12 ounces of Celsius, which contains natural botanicals, micronutrients, amino acids and caffeine, and no high fructose corn syrup, chemical preservatives or carbohydrates.

The other group consumed 12 ounces of Diet Coke. On a different day, the two groups were switched to the other drink.

Their metabolic rate was measured pre-ingestion and for ten minutes at the end of each hour, for three hours following ingestions.

With Celsius, the metabolic rate increased by 13.8 percent at the end of the first hour, 14.4 percent at the second and 8.5 percent at the third. With Diet Coke, an increase of between 4 and 6 percent was observed.

As to the efficacy of Celsius, it seems that the science is present and correct - even if the study group was rather on the small side and the duration of the trial was just one day.

But when the results of the trial are converted into a real life scenario, the message fed to consumers may give them an unrealistic picture of what Celsius could do for them.

"By replacing a regular soft drink with a bottle of Celsius every day for one year, even with no change in exercise habits, a person could theoretically lose up to 17 pounds,"​ said the company.

The science of the study doesn't really stretch this far, though, and principal investigator Dr Ron Mendel pointed out that the amount of calories burned varies according to an individual's metabolism.

Elite FX president Steve Haley said: "In an age where obesity is a major health issue, calories count."

But expecting a drink to be a cure-all for America's obesity and health crisis could be naïve. More than that, it could be downright dangerous if consumers think it gives them carte blanche to consume as many calories as they want, then down a bottle of liquid to burn them all off again.

By introducing a soda product, the marketers of Celsius have certainly picked a rich vein of consumer appeal.

"We evaluated what consumers really wanted from diet soda in terms of taste and performance,"​ said Greg Horn of Specialty Nutrition Group, which helped to develop Celsius with Elite FX.

"Moving from today's no-calorie sodas to Celsius with net negative calories is the next natural evolutionary step in the diet soda market."

In a recent study at Tufts University, 67 percent of respondents reported drinking as much as three servings of soda or sweet drinks each day, making them the single biggest source of calories in the diet.

But although the researcher Dr Odilia Bermudez warned that people could be consuming sweet drinks in place of more nutritious foods, she advised against wholesale replacement of soda with functional alternatives since there are no controls in place to guard against over consumption of functional ingredients.

Replacing three cups of soda a day with fortified or functional beverages could result in over supplementation of the population, she said.

When it comes to caffeine, Dr McEwen of the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine is inclined to agree:

"Caffeine can improve endurance performance, but it can also be problematic in large amounts,"​ he told NutraIngredients-USA.com.

He explained that since it is a diuretic, it can lead to dehydration, particularly when taken during exercise.

The market in weight loss products have been stimulated in the last 14 months, since the FDA's final judgment banning all products containing ephedra came into force.

Products containing the herbal stimulant ephedrine alkaloid, often containing caffeine too, have been linked with raised blood pressure and circulatory system stress, which could lead to heart disease and stroke.

And when it comes to the safety of Celsius, Dr Mendel could not vouch for it:

"The effects of repeated, chronic ingestion of Celsius on the body are unknown at this time,"​ he wrote in the poster presentation.

Until they are, it seems unlikely that the Coca Colas and Pepsi Cos of this world will be quaking in their boots at the prospect of the merely calorie-free diet drink era coming to an end.

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