New Physics-Defying Super Diet Drink

Go Ahead, Drink Bacon Grease for Breakfast

Those clever folks at Coca-Cola Company really know how to make something out of nothing.  A few years ago they stripped out all the ingredients from Coke except for the filtered water and packaged it as Dasani, sold at the same price as Coke. 

Now, partnering with Nestle, they have stripped most of the green tea out of green tea and created a new product, called Enviga, which they claim can burn calories, resulting in a negative-calorie consumption experience.

Drinking three cans of Enviga per day will burn 60-100 calories, they say.  You don't even have to leave the couch. 

While this sounds like something that surely violates one of those laws of thermodynamics, there's a little bit a science behind Coca-Cola's claim.  But a cheaper and more effective calorie-shedding routine might be to walk to the store and just pretend to buy a beverage.

Scientifically refreshing

Enviga is a sparkling green tea drink.  For millennia the Asians have known of the healthful properties in green tea, and scientists in recent years have found considerable evidence that green tea helps prevent certain cancers and heart disease.

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The problem is, Americans don't like green tea.  It's too bitter. 

Nearly all green tea sold in the United States is cut with ample amounts of sugar or "natural" flavors, greatly diminishing green tea's medicinal properties.  Coca-Cola knows this.  So the company teamed up with Nestle to create a palatable product that contains elements of green tea, particularly epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a powerful antioxidant that is the focus of numerous health studies.  They mixed EGCG with water, caffeine, artificial sweeteners and calcium to produce Enviga.

Their theory is that EGCG, caffeine and calcium combine to stimulate human metabolism, prompting the body to burn more calories.  To test this, they paid university scientists to offer human subjects an Enviga-like concoction and a placebo in a controlled setting.

Few human subjects, fewer calories

It's not clear how many studies were performed until they got it "right."  But Coca-Cola's claim that Enviga promotes calorie burning is based on a single six-day study of 31 young adults of healthy weight, published in the February 2007 issue of the journal Obesity.  

Twenty-five of the 31 subjects burned at additional 106 calories, on average, during the three days they drank the Enviga mixture compared to three days on a placebo.  The Enviga drinks contained 57 calories, so in the end these folks only lost about 50 calories per day, which isn't very significant.  Admittedly, opening the can probably burned an additional calorie or two.

Yet six of the subjects, which, mind you, is 20 percent of the study group, actually packed on calories.  If Coca-Cola and Nestle want to advertise Enviga as a weight-loss product, they need to concede that 20 percent of the population will have a positive-calorie experience, not a magical calorie-disappearing experience.

That's if they want to pretend that their single, simpleton scientific study—trumpeted on their websites, in a press release and on the Enviga can itself—carries any validity, which it doesn't.

Having it both ways

Coca-Cola insists that it is not marketing Enviga as a weight-loss product—well, aside from the title in its press release stating that Enviga is "proven to burn calories."  The company states that Enviga is merely a "positive step people can take as part of a balanced lifestyle, like taking the stairs."

"For years, consumers have only had low calorie and zero calorie beverage options," begins the Enviga website.  Sure.  Then Coca-Cola came along to offer us high-calorie beverages options.  And waistlines have never been the same.

Coincidentally, a separate group of scientists in Rome published a paper in February stating that green tea extract containing good ol' EGCG had strong anti-malarial properties.  Clearly it would be irresponsible for Coca-Cola and Nestle to claim that Enviga cures malaria.  Yet they are making a similar claim about weight management, on flimsier science, and are targeting dieters desperate to burn a few calories, at a cost of over $4 a day for the Enviga workout.

Green tea may very well help burn calories; serious studies are ongoing.  If you are interested in the healthful benefits of green tea, you might want to try green tea, which contains 100-percent green tea.

Christopher Wanjek is the author of the books “Bad Medicine” and “Food At Work.” Got a question about Bad Medicine? Email Wanjek. If it’s really bad, he just might answer it in a future column. Bad Medicine appears each Tuesday on LIveScience.

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Christopher Wanjek
Live Science Contributor

Christopher Wanjek is a Live Science contributor and a health and science writer. He is the author of three science books: Spacefarers (2020), Food at Work (2005) and Bad Medicine (2003). His "Food at Work" book and project, concerning workers' health, safety and productivity, was commissioned by the U.N.'s International Labor Organization. For Live Science, Christopher covers public health, nutrition and biology, and he has written extensively for The Washington Post and Sky & Telescope among others, as well as for the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, where he was a senior writer. Christopher holds a Master of Health degree from Harvard School of Public Health and a degree in journalism from Temple University.