Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Many Meanings of "Diet"

pay no attention to the fingerprints on that oven

Even though I've been in Japan for a long time, I sometimes forget that anything labelled "diet" that is not produced by a foreign company is likely to be meant as an aid in losing weight. To an American, "diet" usually means a product has reduced caloric content.

It was with a thoroughly American state of mind that I decided to pick up a bottle of "Aqua Dieta" at a local convenience store. Who doesn't want to try a lovely new diet beverage? A cursory look at the bottle caused me to think it was some sort of sugar-free grapefruit/lemon soft drink.

When I got home, I looked up the web site for the drink and learned that it is supposed to suppress appetite and provide fiber that will assist to that end. The two ingredients that supposedly accomplish this task are arabinose and polydextrose. Arabinose is a form of pectin (which is derived from the cell walls of plants) and it is used to thicken jams and jellies as well as some beverages. In fact, pectin is used in frappucinos made at Starbucks to make them thicker and creamier. Polydextrose is a partially indigestible synthetic substance made from sugar used for thickening and sweetening. It includes citric acid and sorbitol (a naturally-occurring low calorie sweetener with a laxative effect).

Despite having a thickener and a sweetener, Aqua Dieta tastes like mild tonic water. It is lightly carbonated and slightly bitter. I think there's not enough of anything in it to have an effect on appetite. A bit of club soda with a squeeze of lemon and grapefruit in it would probably be more satisfying with fewer chemicals.

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