Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the so-called soft drink czar who has banned sweetened beverages larger than 16 ounces in New York City, probably didn’t expect this development. Pepsi Tuesday launched a version of its popular cola in Japan that claims to block the absorption of fat. Could this new version of Pepsi solve Americans’ neck-and-neck desires for weight loss and sugary, super-sized beverages?
Simply called Pepsi Special, the caffeinated soft drink has the added ingredient dextrin, a natural water-soluble dietary fiber derived from potatoes. Japanese commercials touting the product’s effectiveness for weight loss even go as far as to ask, “Why choose between a hamburger and a slice of pizza? If you choose Pepsi Special, you can have both!” But does it work? Pepsi claims that dextrin slows the absorption of fat in the body by binding with it and eliminating it as waste, not reserving it as empty calories.
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Dextrin’s Dubious Weight-Loss History
Pepsi is basing its claims on a Japanese study published in 2006 that showed that rats fed dextrin actually absorbed less fat than those that were not. And while some of the science behind dextrin is solid, chances are your stools won’t be if you overindulge. That’s right—just like the promises made in the late 1990s when U.S. snack food companies added olestra to salty snacks like potato chips, that fat-blocking ingredient also destroyed a substantial amount of valuable nutrients and gave junk-food junkies more than they bargained for in terms of eliminating the additive.
Americans who enjoyed foods with olestra experienced bloating, cramping, diarrhea, and frequently had loose bowel movements. Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defends olestra, even though its use is banned in the United Kingdom and in Canada. As it turns out, dextrin produces the same results, and has already been given the less-than-cheeky nickname “Pepsi Poop.”
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A Closer Look at Dextrin
Several U.S.-based research studies have examined the health benefits of dextrin and the reviews are mixed.
While the natural additive did help reduce levels of fat in the body, its overall effect is considered modest. In order for dextrin to really absorb enough fat to cause a considerate weight loss, chances are its adverse effects—like frequent diarrhea, gas, and bloating—would be overwhelming.
However, dextrin did offer other health benefits, described in a study published in the Journal of Endocrinology that claims it “improved glucose tolerance in lab mice [and therefore prevented their obesity].”
Another U.S. study published in a 2006 issue of Nutrition claimed dextrin “shows promise is reducing the negative effects of a diet high in cholesterol.”
Those claims were echoed in an earlier 2004 study conducted by the Japan Functional Food Research Association, a non-profit organization. In that report, dextrin’s beneficial uses “promoted blood sugar regulation and suppressed the adverse affects of [high] serum cholesterol.”
The Final Word
While Pepsi’s claims that its new and improved cola beverage is smooth and mimics the popular non-diet version of its soft drink, let the buyer beware. If the claims seem too good to be true, then they most likely are.
While a little dextrin won’t send you rushing to the nearest washroom, chances are a diet punctuated by more than one daily serving of Pepsi Special may be much more than you bargained for—and it still contains high levels of sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup.
If you genuinely want to lose weight or increase your intake of fiber, it’s better to do so by eating more fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. And believe it or not, the best method to successful weight loss remains diet and exercise, not by gulping a popular soft drink with a secret ingredient.