My Round: Here's to your good health?

Beware the promise of 'functional drinks'. In spite of all the claimed benefits, the more we drink the fatter we seem to get
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Indy Lifestyle Online

I'm sure that you don't keep a diary of your daily calorie intake. But if you did, would you discover that you get 7 per cent of your energy from soft drinks? Impossible. Or so you might think. Sadly, that's exactly what researchers from the University of North Carolina (UNC) concluded in a study published last month in the American Journal of Preventive Health. According to BeverageDaily.com, the researchers concluded that between 1977 and 2001, "total energy derived from soft drinks each day rose on average from 2.8 per cent to 7 per cent" while "energy intake from fruit drinks per person grew from 1.1 per cent to 2.2 per cent. At the same time, milk supplied only 5 per cent of energy for all age groups, down from 8 per cent."

I'm sure that you don't keep a diary of your daily calorie intake. But if you did, would you discover that you get 7 per cent of your energy from soft drinks? Impossible. Or so you might think. Sadly, that's exactly what researchers from the University of North Carolina (UNC) concluded in a study published last month in the American Journal of Preventive Health. According to BeverageDaily.com, the researchers concluded that between 1977 and 2001, "total energy derived from soft drinks each day rose on average from 2.8 per cent to 7 per cent" while "energy intake from fruit drinks per person grew from 1.1 per cent to 2.2 per cent. At the same time, milk supplied only 5 per cent of energy for all age groups, down from 8 per cent."

The authors of the study concluded that "the obesity epidemic could be brought to a halt if the volume of sweetened soft drinks and fruit drinks was brought under control." Which means, of course, encouraging people to drink more water, unsweetened fruit juice, tea and coffee in moderation, and milk. Drinks with minimal processing and a single ingredient. Right?

Wrong, if you're in the soft-drinks industry. Those guys are much keener on "functional drinks", and so, it would seem, are consumers. Sales grew by 8 per cent in Western Europe last year, and are expected to keep on growing more than the soft-drinks market as a whole. Germany is the largest European market, the UK is second.

It's hard to give exact figures because definitions of the term functional drink vary from source to source and country to country. In the UK, for instance, "energy drinks" such as Red Bull and Lucozade would be considered eligible by some. In the USA and much of Europe, the term is more often restricted to so-called neutraceuticals, drinks designed to deliver specific health benefits: vitamins (usually A, C, D and E), or minerals (most often calcium or zinc). The delivery medium might be juices, or just water. Yoghurt drinks containing particularly splendid cultures qualify too, but herbal drinks whose contents have no proven health benefit are a little more complicated. Perhaps "ostensibly functional drink" would be the best term?

I can see the point of fortified orange juice, and those that I've drunk (Tropicana, the brand leader by a large margin) seem to taste identical to their unadulterated counterparts. But I have a horrible feeling that neutraceuticals are going to turn nasty. Not the taste, but the level of so-called sophistication. Already, they're selling their antioxidant properties. I can easily imagine a hangover-cure package, complete with heather honey and 400mg of Ibuprofen in a fortified orange-mango juice. But where will it end? Cancer cures in Tetrapak? We need to keep our wits about us.

In the meantime, three positive notes. One: total sales of carbonates are stagnant (but beware the arrival of vitamin-laced fizz). Two: an 18-month pilot study by the Food Standards Agency found a good response to healthy-drinks vending machines in secondary schools, even when the kids also had access to fizz.

And the final bit of good news: it's official, you can have your cake and eat it. The International Bar in St Martins Lane (London WC1, tel: 020 7655 9810) is doing its functional bit with its Absolutely Asian cocktail (Absolut Mandarin with fresh watermelon and champagne). The bar's press release crows about the health benefits of vitamins A and C, and the antioxidant lycopene. "Watermelon is fat free, delivers high nutrients and is a real energy booster!" it boasts. Who ever knew vodka could be so good for you?

Top corks: Splendid South Africans

The Wolftrap Red 2003 £5.99, selected Somerfield A spicy, savoury blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Cinsault. A-plus partner for wintry beef casseroles

Stormhoek Shiraz 2003, Western Cape £5.99, Thresher A concentrated 100 per cent Shiraz, with real heft and fine, ripe tannins. More Rhône-like than Australian (which is a compliment)

Goats do Roam in Villages 2002 £6.99, Majestic, Somerfield, and Booths Another rich, meaty Shiraz. The name has been legally challenged, which shows a poor sense of humour

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