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HEALTH

Coca-Cola Is Using More Artificial Sweeteners to Meet Sugar Reduction Targets

The drinks giant has reduced the sugar content of Sprite, Fanta, and Dr. Pepper by adding sweeteners like stevia and acesulfame.

Daisy Meager

Photo via Flickr user Marco Verch

It's almost a year since the UK Government released its childhood obesity strategy. A main component of the plan was a sugar tax on soft drinks, which would target added-sugar beverages with more than five grams of the white stuff per 100 millilitres and be implemented in April 2018. Alongside this levy, the Government also challenged the food and drink industry to reduce overall sugar content in products by 20 percent.

While some companies have opted to shrink packet sizes to meet the targets (Maltesers are getting lighter by the week), others have gone for recipe reformulation (remember the outrage over "healthy" Kit Kats?). But one of the world's biggest drinks brands has taken a more covert approach.

The Times reports that Coca-Cola has been quietly cutting the sugar content in some of its most popular drinks by up to a third. As of two weeks ago, Fanta now contains 4.6 grams of sugar per 100 millilitres, slipping under the 5 gram threshold for the sugar levy. According to the report, similar sugar reductions of 30 percent were made to Sprite and Dr. Pepper in 2013 and 2014.

The drink giant's chief executive James Quincey said that while there are no plans to change the brand's coveted Coca-Cola recipe, the new Sprite, Fanta, and Dr. Pepper drinks have outperformed the old ones in blind taste tests. He also claimed that sales of the drinks haven't been affected—although Twitter says otherwise.

While Coca-Cola cutting down on sugar seems like good news for those who get through bathtubs of fizzy drinks every year, the new recipes use artificial sweeteners to maintain that sugary taste. Sprite is now made with the plant extract stevia and Fanta with an artificial sweetener called acesulfame.

The problem is that these sweeteners could be just as bad for us as sugar. Over the last few years, studies have linked the consumption of sweeteners with eating more calories and metabolic disorders like diabetes. Research from Imperial College London published earlier this year also suggests that swapping sugar for sweeteners makes no difference in promoting healthy weight.

Maybe we should just enjoy that full-fat Coke after all.