Soda Tax Myths: Going Sugar-Free Will Kill You!

by on July 31, 2014

When Mark Bittman broke the news in the New York Times that on July 30th, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) would be introducing a bill in the House of Representatives requiring a tax on sugar sweetened beverages, you could almost hear the cries of anguish and gnashing of teeth coming from Big Soda.

The announcement has generated a truly amusing PR salvage attempt by one of the leading soda companies. Coca Cola Vice President and Chief Scientific and Regulatory Officer Dr. Rhona Applebaum immediately sent out a tweet warning that a sugar-free diet “could kill you”.

The original source for Applebaum’s scare quote was a Daily Mail article about a group of British health experts who examined the validity of several types of fad diets. About the sugar-free fad diet, the article explained:

“‘Cutting all sugar from your diet would be very difficult to achieve,’ said biochemist Leah Fitzsimmons, who even warned that such a drastic approach could be fatal.

“‘Fruits, vegetables, dairy products and dairy replacements, eggs, alcohol and nuts all contain sugar, which would leave you with little other than meat and fats to eat – definitely not very healthy.’

“The sugar-free diet was one of five assessed by dieticians, biochemists and other experts for the charity Sense About Science.”

No reputable scientist has ever recommended avoiding all sugars; sugars which occur naturally in fruit, vegetables, milk, and other whole natural foods are not considered to be drivers of poor health.

It is the added sugars found in nearly every processed food – everything from ketchup to protein bars to spaghetti sauce – and abundant in many beverages, that are the real danger. Sugar sweetened beverages, including soda, sports and energy drinks, are reportedly the largest food group sources of added sugars in the American diet.

It’s nice that Coke’s Chief Scientific Officer is looking out for our health by warning us not to go sugar free (lest we die), but one can’t help but feel that perhaps the message she is really trying to send is “Even if there is a soda tax, don’t risk your life by giving up Coke!”
Read other articles in the Soda Tax Myths series:

Soda Tax Myths: Are Beverage Companies Friends to the Poor?

Soda Tax Myths: The Arkansas Argument
Soda Tax Myths: Soda Taxes Distract from Real Issues
Truth an Early Casualty in SF’s Soda Tax Fight
Soda Tax Myths: Are Beverages Being Unfairly Targeted?
Soda Tax Myths: Do Soda Taxes Reduce Obesity Rates?
Can Big Soda’s Statistics Be Trusted?
Soda Tax Myths: Does Big Soda Support Free Choice?
NY Soda Tax Advocate’s Advice for SF and Berkeley
Heartless Big Soda Terrifies Mom and Pop Businesses
Soda Tax Myths: Big Soda Says It’s Your Fault If You’re Fat
Soda Tax Myths: Do All Foods Really Fit in a Healthy Diet?
An RD Explains Why All Foods Don’t Fit in a Healthy Diet: Andy Bellatti
Soda tax myths: Will soda taxes really cost consumers more?
Soda tax myths: Is a new tax “the last thing” Berkeley needs?

More on debunking soda tax myths.

Dana Woldow has been a school food advocate since 2002 and shares what she has learned at Follow her on Twitter @nestwife, or read more than 140 characters of her writing in her complete archive.


Dana Woldow

Dana Woldow advocates for policies, including soda taxes and better school meals, to improve the health of all children through better nutrition and education. She has been a leader in improving school food in San Francisco since 2002, when she formed a school nutrition group to run a pilot removing junk food from SFUSD's Aptos Middle School, where her children were students; the pilot was expanded to all of the city's public middle and high schools in 2003. She served as co-chair of the SFUSD Student Nutrition and Physical Activity Committee from October 2003 to June 2011.

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