Researchers say that, although drinks may be enriched with nutrients, the additions may not meet a need or deficiency in the population.
Although none of the drinks surveyed went above accepted safe nutrient levels, the study raises concerns about the long term consumption of excessive nutrients.
The authors add that ‘aggressive’ on-packaging marketing that often suggests such drinks have a number of health benefits, but some messages go beyond conventional nutritional science.
‘Haphazard’ selection of nutrients
Researchers from the University of Toronto and Ryerson University looked at the nutritional benefits of novel beverages (such as vitamin waters, energy drinks, and novel juices) by analysing the micronutrient compositions.
Novel beverages sold in Canadian supermarkets are often enriched with nutrients, and the on-package marketing highlights the associated benefits such as immune support, antioxidant properties, performance, and emotional wellbeing.
Researchers say, however, the choice and level of nutrients are not necessarily those needed by consumers, suggesting there is a ‘considerable incongruence between beverage formations and population health needs.’
“Both the selection of nutrients and the levels of addition appear haphazard from the perspective of nutrient requirements and nutrient needs within the population,” said Naomi Dachner, one of the authors of the study.
“The nutrients most commonly added were B vitamins, for which there is little or no prevalence of inadequacy among young adults and adolescents, the age groups to whom these products appear to be targeted.
“Moreover, many beverages contained these nutrients at levels several times greater than average nutrient requirements,” she added.
High nutrient loads
The sample of drinks found 82% of beverages contained at least one nutrient for which there was no evidence of need. 10 energy drinks contained only nutrients for which there is no evidence of need among young Canadian adults (or with no population data on intakes).
The deficiency of pantothenic acid, chromium and vitamin E in the population has not been analysed, yet 65% of the beverages contained one or two of these nutrients.
Conversely, nutrients with some indication of inadequacy (such as vitamin D, folate, magnesium, potassium, and zinc) were rarely added.
“With the sole exception of vitamin C, most beverages contained few nutrients for which a prevalence of inadequacy had been charted among young adults, and where such nutrients were found, they were often in very small amounts,” Dachner said.
“While our findings suggest that consumers stand to reap little or no benefit from the nutrient additions in novel beverages, most products were being marketed as if they provided a unique benefit to the consumer through the nutrient additions.
“At a time when regulatory bodies in many countries, including Canada, are moving to place restrictions on the formulation and marketing of energy drinks and identify safe levels of nutrient addition for supplemented foods, there is a need to scrutinize the labelling and nutrient content of novel beverages more broadly to ensure that consumers are not misled or exposed to unnecessarily high nutrient loads with no potential benefit.”
How much is too much?
Researchers acknowledge that, while there are no benefits from excessive nutrient consumption, it could be argued there is no harm either. None of the nutrient additions in the survey exceeded the maximum safe levels from Health Canada.
However, they warn the maximum levels of addition allowed are ‘estimates fraught with untested assumptions’ and raise concerns about long term consumption.
“The question of safety hinges on how the high nutrient levels found in many novel beverages will impact total nutrient exposure over time, recognizing that for consumers of novel beverages, the nutrients these products supply add to nutrients from other fortified and natural food sources ingested, as well as any nutrient supplements consumed,” said Dachner.
“Without chronic exposure data, we can do nothing more than speculate on the potential health implications of current directions in the fortification and marketing novel beverages.”
Source: Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism DOI:10.1139/apnm-2014-0252
Published online 12th January 2015.
'An examination of the nutrient content and on-package marketing of novel beverages'
Naomi Dachner; Rena Mendelson; Jocelyn Sacco; Valerie Tarasuk.
*Beverage & Dairy Treatment 2015: Free Online Event featuring speakers from Zenith International, KHS, Refresco Gerber and Meiji. Click here to register for the free online event.