My time in Japan so far has seen many changes, as to be expected, and most have been gradual. One such change has been the increasing prevalence of “calorie off” drinks. When I first arrived I remember this option being available, but as the years have gone by some of my favorite beverages converted completely to “calorie off”, including my beloved lemon Mitsuya Cider... (I like CC Lemon too, but I prefer Mitsuya Cider).
Now, just browsing at the local コンビニ (convenience store), it is more difficult to find carbonated (and some non-carbonated) beverages that aren’t “calorie off.” Not that I drink much else aside water in general (and occasionally 100% juice or tea), but even if some new, "limited edition" beverage looks interesting to try I often don’t because it is, of course, “calorie off.”
So, what is “calorie off”? Basically, the manufacturers have replaced all or most of the sugar with artificial sweeteners, the most typical ingredient being sucralose. Not that regular sugar or corn syrup is healthy, but it is somewhat misleading for folks thinking they are getting something healthy in a “low” or “no” calorie drink, but instead are chugging down something that could be just as unhealthy, but in a potentially different way.
Typically, these low-cal drinks will be labeled with one of the following (or something similar):
カロリーオフ (calorie off)
ゼロカロリー (zero calorie)
カロリーゼロ (calorie zero)
If you see any of these and flip the bottle around to the ingredient list, you’ll most likely see スクラロース (sucralose).
Occasionally you might also see stevia (ステビア) listed, which is a natural sweetener, but without the negative health effects of regular sugar (it is also much sweeter than sugar so can only be used in small concentrations). However, most food or beverages that contain stevia also contain an artificial sweetener (such as sucralose), as it won’t do enough on its own.
So if you're concerned about artificial sweeteners, you may want to steer clear of “calorie off” beverages.
This is my submission to the July 2011 Japan Blog Matsuri, themed "Japanese Drinks", hosted at NihongoUp.