The Coca-Cola Co. has been served notice of a class-action lawsuit filed over what the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says are deceptive and unsubstantiated claims on Coke’s VitaminWater beverage line. Click here to read the lawsuit (PDF file).

Coke markets VitaminWater—with 33 grams of sugar in each bottle, the CSPI says—as a healthful alternative to soda by labeling several flavors with health buzzwords like “defense,” “rescue,” “energy” and “endurance.” The company also claims the drinks reduce the risk of chronic disease and eye disease, promote healthy joints and support optimal immune function, CSPI adds.

CSPI’s Litigation Department, which is serving as co-counsel in the suit, says Coca-Cola goes far beyond the loose claims the FDA allows and asserts the company crosses the line into “outright fraud.”

In documents filed in 2007 with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Coke acknowledged “obesity and other health concerns may reduce demand for some of [its] products” and that “increasing public awareness” about sugar-sweetened beverages could affect the company’s profitability. That same year, Coke acquired VitaminWater’s parent company, Glaceau.

“Coke fears, probably correctly, that they’ll sell less soda as Americans become increasingly concerned with obesity, diabetes and other conditions linked to diets too high in sugar,” says CSPI Litigation Director Steve Gardner. “VitaminWater is Coke’s attempt to dress up soda in a physician’s white coat. Underneath, it’s still sugar water, albeit sugar water that costs about ten bucks a gallon.”

“My advice to consumers is to get your vitamins from real food,” says CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson, PhD. “If you have reason to believe you have a shortcoming of one vitamin or another, perhaps take an inexpensive supplement. But don’t seek out your vitamins in sugary soft drinks like Coke’s VitaminWater.”

Here’s a novel thought: Eat a well-balanced, natural and organic diet.