Fooducate reader Tammy asks “Will you guys do research on SoBe Lifewater 0 calories drink”?
Happy to oblige.
SoBe is a young brand which started selling iced teas in the Northeast in the late 1990′s. In 2000, it was acquired by PepsiCo. Vitamin enhanced waters have been a huge growth engine in the beverage category over the last decade. And as people came to realize that they are paying for those vitamins with lots of sugar, companies have come out with zero calorie versions of the same.
In either case, the health halo of vitamin water is perpetuated with massive marketing campaigns, starting on the label itself and ending in multimillion sport star endorsements.
SoBe’s zero calorie drinks are sweetened with stevia, the darling sweetener of choice, which only last year was approved by the FDA as safe for consumption. Some consumer organizations have warned that the approval was given too fast, as not all studies have shown stevia to be safe for human consumption.
We randomly picked the SoBe lifewater yumberry pomegranate flavor and took a close look inside the label.
Here’s the ingredient list:
Filtered Water, Erythritol, Natural Flavor, Citric Acid, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Xanthan Gum, Calcium Lactate, Potassium Citrate, REB A (Purevia Brand), Modified Food Starch, Cochineal Extract (Color), Vitamin E Acetate, Calcium Phosphate, Gum Arabic, Ginseng Extract, Dandelion Root Extract, Calcium Pantothenate, Niacinamide, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12).
For a water beverage, this product sure has lots of additives! (8 of 21 ingredients, in bold). The stevia sweetener is enhanced with Erythritol which is a sugar alcohol used in sugar free gums and other low sugar products. It is virtually calorieless but may cause bloating in some people.
The “natural flavor” is a proprietary cocktail of extracts that creates the illusion of drinking “yumberries” and pomegranates. Citric Acid adds an acidic/sour flavor too foods and beverages.
But what are modified food starch, xantham gum and gum arabic doing in this drink? These additives are used as thickeners, for example in salad dressing and ice creams. Here they provide just enough viscosity to give a richer mouth feel, as if you are drinking a rich elixir, not plain old tap water mixed with vitamins and flavors.
All the vitamins are achievable if you eat real food.
While this drink is not going to directly add to your weight, it does condition the palate to expect a beverage to be sweet. That’s not good. If you drink it here and there, it’s probably OK, just don’t fool yourself that the vitamins here are going to make you the healthy vibrant person you could be if you eat more fruits and vegetables.
What to do at the supermarket:
The best hydration comes from water, preferably the free kind – tap. Next in line would be bottled water which is nutritionally identical, yet taxes the environment and your pocketbook. One level down are the flavored waters that don’t contain sweeteners of any kind, just flavor. Down one more notch are the stevia sweetened drinks. Then the ones sweetened with artificial sweeteners (though for kids, some parents prefer sugar sweetened over chemicals). Last in line are the sugar sweetened vitamin waters.
In any case, don’t pay any attention to the vitamin added to drinks, they’re not going to be your savior.