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.