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Vitaminwater's Empty Calories Are at the Heart of What's Wrong with the Beverage Industry

Vitaminwater tells its customers to "hydrate responsibly." That means not drinking 125-calorie sugar rushes like ... Vitaminwater.

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CSPI Litigation Director Steve Gardner said, "Coke fears, probably correctly, that they'll sell less soda as Americans become increasingly concerned with obesity, diabetes and other conditions linked to diets too high in sugar. Vitaminwater is Coke's attempt to dress up soda in a physician's white coat. Underneath, its still sugar water, albeit sugar water that costs about 10 bucks a gallon."

The CSPI also states that Vitaminwater contains 0 to 1 percent juice, yet the names of the flavors include "Endurance Peach Mango," "Focus Kiwi Strawberry" and "XXX Blueberry Pomegranate Acai," when in fact, these flavors contain none of these juices.

What is Natural Anyway?

So that got me to thinking: If Vitaminwater contains 0 to 1 percent juice, what is it that is so "natural" about the drink?

I wanted to get to the bottom of what it means when something is labeled "natural." We see it all over the food products we purchase, and unfortunately, more often than not, we tend to associate the word "natural" with healthy, assuming that if something is natural, it must be good for us.

A new Vitaminwater product was recently launched named Vitaminwater 10. The "10" represents the caloric content per serving (less than the original Vitaminwater, but still 25 calories per bottle). The word "natural" is presented so many times on this new bottle that the inner hippy in me is almost inspired to stop shaving my armpits: "Naturally sweetened ... supernaturally tasty" is the mantra chanted on Vitaminwater 10.

The definition of "natural food" by Merriam Webster is as follows: Food that has undergone minimal processing and contains no preservatives or artificial additives. Food that is produced by nature; that is, not produced artificially.

Since all food can be said to be produced by nature, the term "natural foods" becomes virtually meaningless. According to the Institute of Food Technologists, despite the term's widespread use, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration discourages the food industry from using "natural" on labels because of its ambiguity.

"Natural may unjustifiably imply that a food is of superior quality or safety compared to other similar foods", said the FDA's Ritu Nalubola.

The caffeine content on the label of Vitaminwater is listed as "natural caffeine." Confused, by "natural caffeine," naturally I wanted to understand what exactly that meant.

The caffeine used in most energy drinks comes from guarana, a South American plant that has only recently become known around the world and contains more milligrams per ounce than the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee.

Some Vitaminwater Flavors Could Disqualify You from the NCAA

The idea that Vitaminwater is super healthy took an additional beating this winter when it was pointed out that some Vitaminwater flavors contain "impermissible or banned substances" that could lead to suspensions for some athletes.

Apparently, some of the Vitaminwater varieties are equivalent in caffeine content to the amount of caffeine in the popular energy drink Red Bull, which seems to take pride in providing us legal crack in a can (which I might add is loaded with our "natural caffeine" guarana as well).

A popular sport Web site, was alerted by a source that Vitaminwater had six products possibly containing substances that could be problematic for NCAA athletes. If the athletes consumed sufficient quantities some of these flavors -- Power C, Energy, B-Relaxed, Rescue, Vital T and Balance -- there was a chance that a drug test might come up positive, potentially resulting in lost eligibility.

What was particularly shocking about the NCAA revelation was that Coca-Cola is a major marketing partner for the NCAA. The Vitaminwater flavor "Revive" has a sponsorship deal with the NCAA this year to have sideline presence during all 88 NCAA championships.

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