Old School Soda: Pepsi introduces “throwbacks” with real sugar

Old School Soda: Pepsi introduces “throwbacks” with real sugar

By Hannah Martin, News Staff & Megan Lieberman, News Staff

Pepsi and Mountain Dew each recently released limited-edition “Throwback” sodas that are vintage inspired not only in their packaging, but in their ingredients: These drinks are made with natural sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup.

As part of their “Refresh Everything” campaign, Pepsi said in a press release that the throwbacks are meant to “offer consumers a taste of the past.” But when the drinks hit stores last April for what was intended to be an eight-week run, an influx of tweets, fan pages and blog posts prompted a reintroduction for 2010.

With the ongoing discussion on high fructose corn syrup and its nutritional value, students agreed: This new Pepsi product is one they’re interested in. They said the throwback taste was so close to the original that they would pick it for its real ingredients.

Senior political science major Michael Groffenberger, who said he recently cut Splenda and other artificial sweeteners out of his diet, said if he were in a situation that called for soda (like a pizza party), he would opt for the throwback.

“High fructose corn syrup causes all kinds of problems,” he said. “So if I had to choose I would definitely pick the throwback.”

Emmy Higgins, communication studies major and vice president of NU Nutrition, said she’s aware of this common perception, but with the expanse of websites debating sugar versus artificial sweeteners, drawing accurate conclusions can become confusing.

“When it comes down to it, our bodies are better able to digest sugar,” she said. “The body transforms it to glucose before either storing it or burning it for energy. Artificial sweeteners like aspartame and stevia are purely chemical, and the body is less equipped to digest these unnatural elements properly.”

Higgins said, in her opinion, replacing high fructose corn syrup with real sugar is nutritionally beneficial and that she would encourage soda companies to continue producing ‘real sugar’ alternatives.

“If you’ll notice the recent ads promoting high fructose corn syrup, their arguments include it has the same calories as sugar, and is ‘just fine’ in moderation,” she said. “The problem is, almost no one uses high fructose corn syrup in moderation, especially since it has started to replace real sugar in many processed foods, just so they can boast “sugar free” on the label.”

Ashley Equi, a middler biology major and fellow member of NU Nutrition, agreed with Higgins and said she would choose the throwback with real sugar for health reasons.

“High fructose corn syrup is heavily processed to make it cheap for soft drink companies and [to give drinks] a longer shelf life,” she said. “I’ve read several publications about it, and studies have shown that our bodies metabolize the two differently. High fructose corn syrup has a higher percentage of fructose to glucose, and the increased levels of fructose are converted directly into fat.”

Translation: High fructose corn syrup equals higher levels of fat equals increased risk factors for diseases.

Nutrition professor Judy Richman said, rather, that while she doesn’t consider herself an expert on the subject, she doesn’t think that these changes will have a significant impact on individual health.

“Since sugar and high fructose corn syrup have very similar effects on adipose tissue accumulation [fat] due to empty calorie consumption, this is more of a marketing tactic for these companies,” she said. “People may think they are more natural, but sugar is still a refined carb and impacts your health in a negative way just as much as high fructose corn syrup from my understanding.”

Senior finance majors Eimear Dixon and Emma Lane said that in their home country of Ireland, sugar substitutes like high fructose corn syrup are unheard of.

“I don’t really know what it [high fructose corn syrup] is,” Lane said, who said she preferred the taste of regular Pepsi. “We don’t have that stuff in Ireland and we’d never heard of it before we came here. You get a bit uncomfortable with it at the start but it’s in everything so you can’t avoid it.”

Chris Covey, a middler communication studies major, said he hopes Pepsi will decide to make Pepsi Throwback, which he recently tried on a whim, a permanent staple.

“If [high fructose corn syrup] is in all our foods, that’s really bad. It’s one of the reasons why we’re a really obese nation so I think eliminating as much of it as possible is better for everyone else’s diet,” he said.

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