New York, NY —The term “diet” has been used by soft drink companies to describe sugar-free and low calorie options for many years. The Code of Federal Regulations Title 21 states that companies may continue provided that "use of the term is not false or misleading.”

On Oct. 16, three separate cases against PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Co. and Dr. Pepper Snapple group were filed as a class action in federal court. The companies were accused of deceiving consumers into believing the diet soft drinks will help them lose or manage weight.The complaints— which use virtually the same language — allege scientific studies show the opposite to be true. The lawsuits focus on the use of the low calorie, artificial sweetener aspartame.

The complaints charge that products including aspartame are scientifically proven to likely cause weight gain if consumed frequently. The lawsuit also claims that the consumption of these beverages can lead to metabolic disease, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

When the brain perceives a no-calorie beverage as sweet, it believes it is about to get an energy boost and then reduces metabolism — resulting in more calories being stored in the body, the suits allege.

The three lawsuits state that “sweetness — whether from sugar or non-caloric, artificial sources — increases appetite, which can lead to weight gain. Moreover, '[i]nconsistent coupling between sweet taste and caloric content can lead to compensatory overeating and positive energy balance.”

Abraham Melamed, one of the attorneys on the case, told CBS News this is “one of the biggest consumer scams in the last 50 years, and it has to stop. There's a strong sense of urgency because there are hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of consumers out there that are being deceived on a daily basis.”

Coca-Cola recently launched two sweetener challenges on the HeroX crowdsourcing platform to find all-natural low- or no-calorie sugar alternatives. The first is the “Sweet Story Challenge,” which asks people nationwide to submit written stories and videos about their favorite ways to naturally sweeten foods or beverages in their cultures, communities, or families. Five winners will be announced in December and will vie for $100,000 in total prize money.

The second challenge asks researchers and scientists to come up with a naturally sourced, safe, low calorie compound that mimics the taste of sugar in beverages and foods. One winner will be awarded $1 million in October 2018.

Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper Snapple both denounced the lawsuits against them. They plan to defend their products and call the lawsuit “completely meritless,” according to CBS. PepsiCo declined to comment.

(Published on WholeFoods Magazine, 10/18/17)