“Naturally Flavored” Crystal Light Drink Mix. Indeed?

We’ve lamented the fuzzy definition of the word “natural” when it comes to food labeling. Let’s take a look at a “naturally flavored” drink mix to emphasize the absurdity.

With “90% fewer calories than leading beverages”, Crystal Light sounds like a good deal for calorie conscious consumers who need to flavor their water.

Crystal Light Lemonade boasts “Natural Flavor with other Natural Flavors”. That sounds like a weird sentence. What exactly does it mean?

We took a look at the ingredient list for some clues:

Citric Acid, Potassium and Sodium Citrate, Aspartame, magnesium oxide, contains 2% or less of natural flavor, lemon juice solids, acesulfame potassium, soy lecithin, artificial color, yellow 5, BHA (preserves freshness).

Here’s a brief glossary to understand what this “naturally flavored” product contains:

Citric acid is a natural preservative that is used in beverages to add an acidic, sour taste. Although it is naturally found in citrus fruit (oranges, lemons), industry has a found a cheaper way to manufacture it. This is through a fermentation process in which a mold called Aspergillus Niger is used to ferment a carbohydrate such as molasses. sounds grosser than it really is.

Potassium Citrate and Sodium Citrate – add more tart flavor and also serve as an acidity regulator. Why would we need an “acidity regulator”? All foods live somewhere along the pH scale – acid products taste sour (lemons, yogurt) , while an alkaline products taste bitter (baking soda). Acidity regulators  change the acidity or alkalinity of a product for 2 reasons: taste and safety.  for processing, taste and food safety. if the pH is off, mold or bacteria can grow on a product. OK, chemistry lesson over.

Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that the FDA approves as safe, as do innumerable studies over the past few decades. And yet, enough question marks have been raised as to its safety to warrant caution and limiting use. Acesulfame potassium, often used in conjuction with Aspartame, is another artificial sweetener with even more questions regarding its long term health effects. But you can’t argue with the calories. Almost zero compared to 60-90 calories per comparable sugar sweetened drinks.

Magnesium oxide is not often used in foods, but you’ll find it in supplements, and as a moisture absorber. It has caused tumors in hamsters.

Natural flavor – finally, the reason this product is called “naturally flavored”. You’ll never know what’s in there because it is a trade secret. But hey, don’t worry, it’s natural. Had it been artificial, the label would have read artificial flavor.

Soy lecithin is an emulsifier. It keeps everything mixed together so the powder mix won’t fall to the bottom of the bottle after you stop mixing. Read more about it here.

There are 2 artificial colors here. One is yellow 5, a dubious chemical that has also been shown to be carcinogenic. The other is just “artificial color”. Lovely, we don’t even know what we’re getting.

BHA is a preservative. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers BHA to be “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Despite this, the FDA still considers it safe.

OK, so after all this, can someone please explain what this product and “natural” have to do with each other ?

What to do at the supermarket:

Ideally, you should drink just water. Once in a while, enjoy 100% fruit juice. Leave the chemicals to the lab.

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  • http://urfatimnot.com manuel lusquinos

    this is the kind of information people need.most r suckers 2 the bs that advertisers inundate our daily lives with.thank u & keep it up.knowledge & education are the only things that can save us.

  • http://www.UrbanOrganicGardener.com Mike Lieberman

    Thanks for sharing this post. The last line is the best one “Leave the chemicals to the lab.”

  • http://www.yourhealthtruth.com/ Brock Hardman

    Great post! People really need to be aware of this stuff.

  • http://meliasaurus.tumblr.com amelia

    Are there any sweeteners you would regard as sound for your body? I’m going to school for dietetics but so far my program has pretty staunchly stood on the the fewer calories the better side of things. My teachers tell us as an obvious obligation that questions are still raised about sweeteners.

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Editorial Staff

      it depends. In beverages there shouldn’t be any sweeteners to begin with – just water. 100% juice (naturally sweet) is a great treat here and there.

  • susan

    If everyone would read labels and question things they don’t understand then companies couldn’t get away with labeling as they do.

  • Donna

    Nothing beter then a lemon, lime or orange wedge to flavor water.

  • WilliamB

    “Magnesium oxide is not often used in foods, but you’ll find it in supplements, and as a moisture absorber. It has caused tumors in hamsters.”

    Shame on you!

    This is a blog dedicated to clarifying food and science matters, yet you resort to scare language instead of facts. I could say, with greater accuracy and easier proof, that even small amounts of dihydrogen oxide has killed and that lying in bed has caused lethal skin ulcers.

    Applying the techniques you use on this blog, we should discount your statement because of the lack of numbers and references. If you want to persuade us, tell us how much magnesium oxide it takes to cause tumors in proportion to size and for how long the dosage was administered.

  • veG

    by the way, watching calories isn’t gonna do zip if you’re trying to lose weight. it’s the carbs that you want to look at.

  • WF

    Well said! This type of inflammatory language is in appropriate when the purpose of the site is to educate consumers about food choices.

  • WilliamB

    @WilliamB PS: My comment about this specific line is not meant to indicate disapproval of Fooducate at all. I appreciate it greatly and look forward to my daily read. In the future I hope it maintains its generally high standards and keeps up the good wook.

  • http://www.livingitupcornfree.com kc

    It is all kinds of ridiculous that the FTC is going after Pom Wonderful for touting the benefits of pomegranates when the only ingredient is pomegranate juice, but this crap can carry the label “natural”. 11 out of the 12 ingredients are made from GMO corn or GMO soy. There’s no way you can bastardize the meaning of the word “natural” to encompass genetically modified crops, yet the FTC is OK with this. Is there anyone out there that still believes the claim that the U.S. regulatory authorities are just looking out for the safety of our citizens?

  • alex


    HAHAAHA WOW. damn. no. just no. i can’t even begin to explain how wrong you are.
    if you want to lose weight, you must use more calories in a day than you ingest. that’s it

  • unstuck


    Alex is correct. Weight loss is about calories in/calories out as the entire nutritional and medical community has always maintained. Anti-carb diets are widely discredited now and they really only work by tricking you into eating fewer calories!

  • Heidi

    i actually like crystal light sometimes. I in no way consider it natural though. One of those mini packets can fill 3 big bottles of water for me the way i mix it.

  • Pamela

    I read in Dr. Sears book where “natural flavoring” is another name for MSG & to stay away from it.

  • Corey


    Citing the USDA FSIS regulations on the natural flavoring and MSG topic…


    Can hydrolyzed animal or vegetable protein be identified as “natural flavoring” on the label?

    No. FSIS regulation requires that animal or vegetable proteins must be specifically identified in the ingredient statement on the labels. The source of the protein must also be disclosed. On the label, you will read “hydrolyzed wheat protein” or “hydrolyzed milk protein,” not just hydrolyzed protein.

  • E


    Thanks for the good laugh. You got any patients today Dr.?

  • http://www.sotari.com/shopping/mango-peach.php sotari-beverages

      Yes your right natural gradients are included in this product so I think this is natural