Here in the US, sugary sodas are often demonized by public health campaigns combating obesity, and rightfully so. But across the Pacific, one special variety of Coca Cola has become synonymous with wellness to the point that even the Japanese Government has signed off on its health benefits. It’s secret ingredient? Laxatives.
That’s right: since launching last March, Coca-Cola Plus has blossomed in popularity, offering Japanese consumers the chance to gulp sip on soda while upping their fiber intake. The secret ingredient in the zero-calorie cola is dextrin, an indigestible substance that Coca-Cola claims “will help suppress fat absorption and help moderate the levels of triglycerides in the blood after eating” when taken once a day.
The beverage was the product of nearly a decade of R&D by Coca-Cola Japan, who sought to preserve Coke’s classic taste while adding ingredients that could win the Japanese government’s support. By that metric, it’s already a success: Coca-Cola Plus has been certified as one of the country’s “Foods for Specified Health Uses” (forshu), joining Kirin Mets Cola and Pepsi Special as one of three sodas to receive the special designation.
For some consumers like Miho Katori, that was all it took to make the switch from other diet colas. I don’t know if it’s effective or not,” Katori tells the Wall Street Journal, “but it looks like it is good for my health because it has a Foshu stamp.”
Of course, not everyone in Japan is sweet on Coca-Cola Plus’ supposed health benefits. Michiko Kamiyama, a lawyer with Food Safety Citizens’ Watch, is skeptical of any soda, regardless of whether or not it comes with governmental approval. “If you have a well-balanced diet and do an appropriate amount of exercise then you don’t need them,” she says of Coca-Cola Plus and other foshu products. “I personally think it is totally ineffective.”
Other detractors mention disliking the taste, and not even an allegedly healthy cola seems capable of fully overcoming cultural norms. “Your image can suffer if you say you drink cola,” says Tominaga Ozawa, who told the Wall Street Journal he does his Coca-Cola Plus drinking in private.
Whether or not it’s ultimately a cynical ploy by Coca Cola to shift public perception of soft drinks by winning governmental support, it’s clear that Japanese consumers are drinking it up. Just be sure not to drink more than a bottle a day, or else you’ll run the risk of suffering some unseemly side effects.