Is Crystal Light Bad For You?

Crystal Light is a water flavoring product that’s been around since 1982. As a powdered “water enhancer,” it is primarily designed for people who are tired of drinking plain water and want something with a little more flavor or sweetness.

But is Crystal Light a bad choice when it comes to your health?

Before I answer that question, I would like to explain why people drink Crystal Light in the first place and then I’d like to walk you through each of the ingredients, explaining what they are, some of their hazards, and what I think about them. My goal is to help you make your own determination – in the end – regarding whether Crystal Light is the right water enhancer for you, or if you should just avoid it altogether.

Jump to Section…

I. Why do people drink Crystal Light?
II. Nutrition Facts
III. Ingredients
IV. Analysis For Each Ingredient in Crystal Light

V. FAQs
VI. Final Verdict
VII. Healthy Alternatives
VIII. References

What are the reasons people reach for Crystal Light?

Other than a convenient way to flavor water, Crystal Light offers the following benefits:

1. On-the-go Water Flavoring

Originally designed for multi-use purposes, Crystal Light launched a single-serve “On The Go” packet option in 2004. These packets are designed to be carried with you, each packet provides enough mix for two servings, or 16.9 fluid ounces.

2. It’s Low Calorie

Classic Crystal Light and On The Go varieties contain 5 calories per serving.

In 2010, Crystal Light launched it’s low-calorie “naturally sweetened” drink mix called Pure Fitness. This product was rebranded in 2011, dropping the second part Fitness and becoming Crystal Light Pure. On its labels, Crystal Light Pure is marketed as a “no artificial sweeteners, flavors, or preservatives” beverage. It’s Raspberry Lemonade flavor contains 15 calories per serving, which is ½ packet.

3. It’s Low Sugar

Classic and On The Go varieties contain zero sugar. However, it does contain aspartame, an artificial sweetener.

Crystal Light Pure (Raspberry Lemonade flavor) has 3 grams of sugar.

4. To Make A “Healthy” Lemonade

If you are making lemonade for a get-together, as a low-calorie, low-sugar drink Crystal Light sounds like a great choice. In fact, there are more than a few flavors that line up nicely with the lemonade theme: “natural lemonade,” “pink lemonade,” and “raspberry lemonade” are a few examples.

5. As an Alcoholic Beverage Mixer

It is well-known for party-goers that vodka and Crystal Light go quite well together. College students often turn to crystal light to mix in with a hard, clear liquor like vodka to give it a little flavor. Low in sugar, Crystal Light seems like a healthy choice.

Cocktails without added sugars are known to help reduce the chances of suffering from a hangover the next day. This is one reason why Crystal Light might be appealing as a cocktail mixer. However, those who turn to this drink mix should know that Crystal Light contains aspartame, an artificial flavor that is potentially harmful to your health. Read on to learn more about this artificial sweetener and its risks.

6. As an Energy Booster

Some Crystal Light flavors contain added caffeine. First and foremost, Crystal Light has an energy product line that is designed to give consumers focus and an energy boost. The amount of caffeine in this line ranges from 30mg to 60mg per serving. Last, their Classic tea varieties – such as iced and sweet tea – also contain caffeine (approximately 12 ounces per serving).

Crystal Light Nutrition Facts

Serving Size

Amount Per Serving

Ingredients

The following ingredients were found in Crystal Light Pink Lemonade (ingredients list pictured above):

CITRIC ACID, POTASSIUM CITRATE, MALTODEXTRIN, ASPARTAME*, MAGNESIUM OXIDE, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF NATURALFLAVOR, ACESULFAME POTASSIUM, SOY LECITHIN, ARTIFICIAL COLOR, RED40. *PHENYLKETONURICS: CONTAINS PHENYLALANINE

The following ingredients were found in Crystal Light Concord Grape (not pictured):

CITRIC ACID, MALTODEXTRIN, ASPARTAME*, CALCIUM PHOSPHATE, SALT, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, ACESULFAME POTASSIUM, POTASSIUM CITRATE, RED 40, BLUE 1.* PHENYLKETONURICS: CONTAINS PHENYLALANINE

The following ingredients were found in Crystal Light On The Go Pure Lemonade (not pictured):

SUGAR, CITRIC ACID, MALTODEXTRIN, CALCIUM LACTATE, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF NATURAL FLAVOR, REBIANA (TRUVIA BRAND SWEETENER), SODIUM CITRATE, MAGNESIUM OXIDE, OLEORESIN TURMERIC (FOR COLOR).

*Nutrition information is estimated based on the ingredients and cooking instructions as described in each recipe and is intended to be used for informational purposes only. Please note that nutrition details may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients used.

Analysis For Each Ingredient in Crystal Light

1. CITRIC ACID

Citric acid is a weak acid commonly added to beverages for its sour flavor and preservative properties. It also provides a tart, refreshing flavor to counter the sweetness found in juices, soft drinks, teas, and other drinks.

Although it occurs naturally in many citrus fruits and some vegetables, there isn’t enough citrus fruits to meet the high industrial demands for citric acid. This is why citric acid is made in a lab from a black mold called Aspergillus niger since 1917-1919. A. niger feeds on sugars (sucralose or glucose) often from corn starch, which may or not be genetically modified. As an industry response, some non-GMO citric acid products are being released.

Possible Health Concerns

Bottom Line: Caution

For avoiding enamel erosion and reducing the input of allergens and toxins in the body, it is best to avoid citric acid. But if you don’t care all that much about your teeth, then I give it a cautionary rating.

2. MALTODEXTRIN

Maltodextrin is generally used as a sweetener, thickener, filler, or preservative in processed foods. Maltodextrin is a white powder sourced from starches like corn, wheat, rice, potatoes, or tapioca. In the U.S., maltodextrin almost exclusively comes from corn starch.

Possible Health Concerns

Bottom Line: Caution

If you have concerns about GMOs, allergies, GI issues, or you are watching your blood sugar or gut health: you should avoid maltodextrin.

3. ASPARTAME

An extremely common artificial sweetener, aspartame is marketed as a “safe,” low-calorie sweetener. Approved by the FDA in 1976 after being unanimously rejected, aspartame gets it’s low-calorie attribution from the fact that it is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Because of its high sweetness, less aspartame needs to be added to foods, thus reducing the total number of calories introduced to the food.

There are a number of studies on both sides of the aspartame equation, ranging from “it’s harmless” to “it’s scary as hell.” On one hand, you have five health organization’s standing behind it’s safety (1) US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), (2) United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, (3) World Health Organization, (4) American Heart Association, and (5) American Dietetic Association. But on the other hand, you have studies which show aspartame “induces cancers of the liver and lung in male Swiss mice”[1] and increases leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma risk.[2]

Other potential risk factors include (a) the possibility that it converts to formaldehyde, increasing the risk of dementia and stroke, (b) increased risk of inflammation and obesity, © and increased risk of depression. This is a limited list. Visit here for a comprehensive list of aspartame risk factors.

Brand names aspartame is sold under: NutraSweet and Equal.

Bottom Line: Caution

While some big organizations consider aspartame safe, the potential risk of liver and lung cancer as wells as leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, it would be best to use caution when considering consuming aspartame.

4. CALCIUM PHOSPHATE

Calcium phosphate (CPP) is commonly found as an active ingredient in many calcium supplements, containing 39 percent elemental calcium (this essentially means that it’s 39 percent effective, so a 500 mg tablet will net you 195 mg of calcium).

Adding calcium phosphate to sports or soft drinks reduces the instance of dental erosion. In 1999, a study was conducted showing that “the dissolution of enamel increased logarithmically inversely with the pH of the drink and parallel with the solubility of enamel apatite.”[3] What this means is that calcium phosphate is added to reduce the acidity of the drink, thus reducing the prevalence of tooth enamel erosion.

Another study had similar findings, where enamel erosion was found in subjects that frequently consumed these types of beverages, but was eliminated by the addition of calcium phosphate.[4] However, the same study observed “microscopic surface irregularities on test enamel…apparent as adherent granules or globules” possibly stemming from remineralization due to the calcium and phosphate.

Bottom Line: Caution

Calcium phosphate (CPP) itself seems harmless on the surface, but it is interesting to note why it is added to beverages like Crystal Light. When you consume beverages that have calcium phosphate, you are also taking in phosphorus. While phosphorus is important for bone health, deficiencies are rare. Excess phosphorus intake due to an overconsumption of these beverages can lead to osteoporosis and kidney problems.

If you are in need of calcium supplementation, alternative sources such as calcium carbonate (40 percent elemental calcium) and calcium citrate (21 percent) may be better options.

5. SALT

Salt is something everyone needs in moderate quantities. I would argue that the quality of the salt you consume matters, and if it’s simply labeled “salt” then it’s difficult to know what kind of salt it is, other than deducing that it is likely not sea salt.

Bottom Line: Safe

6. CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR

One of the most confusing elements you’ll find on a food label, “natural and artificial flavors” can mean a few things. On the surface, “natural” means the chemical used came from an edible source, and “artificial” means it came from a inedible source. A lemon peel is an example of a natural edible source, while petroleum could be a source an artificial source. Just because a natural ingredient comes from an edible source doesn’t automatically make it better for you, however. This is because artificial ingredients may be safer, as only safety-tested ingredients are used.

According to the FDA, a natural flavor can be “derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products” whose primary function is flavor, rather than nutrition.[5]

The FDA’s definition of an artificial flavor is simply a flavor that is NOT from a natural source (see above quote). I counted 727 artificial flavors listed on their website.[6]

Because it’s so hard to tell what you are really getting when you see something with “natural and artificial flavors” on a label, it’s best to buy foods with flavors that are spelled out plainly.

Bottom Line: Avoid

7. ACESULFAME POTASSIUM

Also known by the name “Acesulfame-K” or “Ace-K” for short, acesulfame potassium is an artificial sweetener 200 times sweeter than table sugar.

Testing of this artificial sweetener began in the 1970s and was approved by the FDA in 1998. Critics cite inadequate testing as the primary source of concern for the chemical, along with studies which show possible carcinogenic effects in rats and mice. One study found an increased risk of cancer among male mice, but similar study was conducted showing no such risk. Other research suggests acesulfame K may affect prenatal development, as well as thyroid damage in lab animals (rats, rabbits, and dogs) after the body breaks down the chemical into acetoacetamide.

The FDA and European Food Safety Authority have dismissed such cancer claims.

Overall, further research is required before a proper conclusion can be made regarding this chemical. Until then, acesulfame potassium will have a grade of caution.

Bottom Line: Caution

8. POTASSIUM CITRATE

Potassium citrate is a white hygroscopic salt of citric acid. In the laboratory, it is produced by reacting potassium bicarbonate or potassium carbonate with citric acid solution. Potassium citrate is used as an additive in carbonated soft drinks, ice creams and candies. Drink flavors derived from orange, lemon, grapefruit and other citrus fruits are examples of flavors with potassium citrate.

Uses

The major benefit of potassium citrate, both as an additive and as a drug, is that it makes the urine less acidic (acting as an alkali). This helps reduce the incidence of gout and kidney stones.[7] Potassium citrate has also been shown to increase the mineral density of bones thus being effective in the treatment of osteoporosis.[8] Finally, it is also used in the treatment and management of other metabolic problems such as metabolic acidosis and renal acidosis.

Safety Analysis

It is important to avoid or limit your intake of food or drinks containing potassium citrate when the following conditions are suspected:

Also, the following side effects have been reported in people who have taken potassium citrate supplements or drugs: skin irritation, nausea, diarrhea, stomach pain, emesis (vomiting).

*Kidney stone formation is a complicated process. Generally, reducing the acidity of urine is helpful in reducing the onset of stones. But alkali can sometimes worsen stones, becoming problematic rather than helpful.

Bottom Line: Caution

9. RED 40

The FDA has certified nine food color additives under the United States Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C for short). Red No. 40 is one of them. The common name for Red 40 is “Allura Red AC” and gives food products an orange-red coloring.

As with all food colorings, the FDA mandates that it is listed on food labels. Red 40, specifically, is produced from coal tars – which is a by-product from the distillation of coal and is used to make a variety of products (coke (fuel), coal gas, soap). A thick, black liquid, coal tar is also used to improve road surfaces and to preserve rail ties.

Safety

While the FDA regards Red 40 as safe, there are some potential negative health effects. Things like allergic reactions, the development of food intolerances, asthma, and swelling of the mouth may occur. It is also linked to hyperactivity in kids, which may trigger ADHD behaviors in those who are genetically susceptible, and is “reasonably anticipated” to be a human carcinogen according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

In studies involving rats, Red 40 was shown to lower reproductive abilities, decrease body and brain weight in parents and offspring, and lower the chances of survival in newborns.

Red 40 is a member of the “Southampton Six” – a list of food dyes identified by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) as particularly unsafe. The CSPI is urging the FDA to remove these from its list of certified food colorings.

Bottom Line: Caution

10. BLUE 1

Similar to Red 40, Blue No. 1 is a certified food color additive by the FDA. It’s common name is “Brilliant Blue FCF.” It was originally sourced from coal tar as well, but most manufacturers today derive it from an oil base.

Health Concerns

Found in beverages, cereal bars, dairy products, cereals, and baked goods, Blue 1 is very quickly absorbed by the skin and gets into the bloodstream. This increases the risk of inhibiting cell respiration.

In animal controlled mice studies, Blue 1 was shown to be linked with an increased risk of kidney tumors.[9]

When used in feeding tubes, Blue 1 created “effects like blue-tinged skin, urine, and feces, as well as hypotension and death” — after which the FDA issued a public health advisory. The International Association of Color Manufacturers responded, noting the amount of dye absorbed into human skin is negligible.

Bottom Line: Caution

11. PHENYLALANINE

Phenylalanine (also called aspartyl phenylalanine-1–methyl ester) is an essential amino acid, meaning the body cannot synthesize it and we need to get it from the food we eat.

Major food sources of phenylalanine include meat, fish, eggs and other dairy products such as milk and cheese.[10] Phenylalanine is also found in drinks including the artificial sweetener aspartame.

Uses

Safety Analysis

Phenylalanine is not safe for any individual having a genetic condition called phenylketonuria.[11] These individuals, called phenylketonurics, should avoid any Crystal Light product that contains phenylalanine. Crystal Light puts a warning on products that contain phenylalanine, such as the following: PHENYLKETONURICS: CONTAINS PHENYLALANINE.

Phenylketonuria is a genetic disorder characterized by excessive phenylalanine levels in the blood due to deficiency of the enzyme phenylalanine hydroxylase which converts phenylalanine to tyrosine. High phenylalanine levels in the blood causes mental retardation.[12]

Phenylalanine should also be avoided by pregnant women. Evidence from research has labeled phenylalanine as a very potent teratogen. Hence, it can cause serious birth defects.

Bottom Line: Caution

12. MAGNESIUM OXIDE

Magnesium oxide, another chemical substance found in flavored drinks, is a mineral supplement used for the treatment or prevention of low blood magnesium levels.[13] Apart from being an additive in drinks, it is also commonly used as a pharmaceutical.

Uses

Magnesium oxide provides the following health benefits:

Safety Analysis

Except otherwise stated by a doctor, or if an individual is under a specific prescription or diet, magnesium oxide is generally safe as an additive in drinks. That being said, the following side effects have been experienced in some individuals who have supplemented with magnesium oxide:

Bottom Line: Safe

13. SOY LECITHIN

Soy lecithin is primarily used as an emulsifier (food stabilizer), and is found in many foods – even chocolate and salad dressing. Overall, soy lecithin isn’t terribly bad for most of us. But if you have a soy allergy (or have a clear sensitivity to it), you should go out of their way to avoid this food additive.

Outside of a soy allergy, the remaining concerns stemming from soy lecithin consumption include the use of pesticides, solvents, and GMOs during its production. But none of these are major issues for the generally healthy, and can be easily avoided by option for organic soy lecithin.

Bottom Line: Safe

14. CALCIUM LACTATE

Calcium lactate is a chelated form of calcium produced in the laboratory by reacting lactic acid with calcium trioxocarbonate (IV) or calcium hydroxide. Calcium lactate is used as a pharmaceutical and in the food industry it acts as a flavoring, thickener and leavening agent.

Calcium lactate is primarily added to beverages to treat and prevent of low calcium levels in the blood. In other words, beverages are being fortified with calcium through the addition of calcium lactate. Calcium is important for bone health, normal functioning of the nervous system (it aids in proper transmission of nerve impulses), and also muscles and bones.

Safety Analysis

Calcium lactate is generally safe, although you may experience side effects. The following side effects have been observed in individuals who have taken calcium lactate drugs:

Bottom Line: Safe

15. REBIANA

An artificial sweetener trademarked by the Coca-Cola company in 2007. Derived from stevia leaves by steeping them in water, rebiana is a high-purity form of rebaudioside A – a steviol glycoside 200 times sweeter than sugar. Among steviol glycosides, rebaudioside A is the least bitter to the taste. Truvia and PureVia are also made from rebiana.

Experiments show taste receptors on the tongue react with the glycosides and produce a sweet sensation followed by a bitter aftertaste. Additionally, steviol glycosides interact with the TRPM5 protein channel. This potentiates the sweet and bitter effect on the tastebuds, and amplifies the sweet, bitter, and umami tastes of other ingested substances. After ingestion, steviol is not digested any further. It enters the bloodstream, is metabolised by the liver, and excreted via urine.

The purer the form of rebaudioside A, the more potentially safe the product will be. What concerns me, is that it’s an extract of the original form of stevia, which is simply a plant and harmless in it’s natural state. From 100% purity, products meeting a 97% purity standard are labeled as safe from the FDA (originally, the FDA banned stevia products citing research indicating a potential cancer risk). Truvia, on the other hand, is only meets a 0.5% purity standard. The remainder of the product comes from erythritol, a sugar alcohol.

According to the World Health Organization and The European Food Safety Authority, acceptable daily steviol glycoside intakes are as high as 4 mg/kg of body weight.[14] Additionally, the CSPI notes that there are no published carcinogenic studies for rebaudioside A.

The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, on the other hand, makes warning that high dosages of steviol may have a small amount of mutagenic activity (i.e., may cause cell damage and therefore is carcinogenic).

Bottom Line: Safe, but proceed with caution

16. SODIUM CITRATE

Sodium citrate – just like potassium citrate – is a sodium salt of citric acid. In the laboratory, it is manufactured by neutralizing citric acid with sodium hydroxide. It has a slightly sour taste and is odorless. Sodium citrate is also used as a pharmaceutical.

Uses

Safety Analysis

Sodium citrate, either as drink flavoring or as a drug, does not pose any serious health risk. Side effects may occur from taking sodium citrate pharmaceutically, but they are usually mild. Some of these side effects include:

Bottom Line: Safe

17. OLEORESIN TURMERIC

Oleoresin turmeric is one of the two basic commercially available forms of turmeric. It is produced by the extraction of curcuma (a florescent yellow extract from the roots of several species of the ginger family, zingiberaceae) with alcohol.[15] The oleoresin then undergoes further treatment to free it from microbes.

Uses

Oleoresin turmeric does not really have a nutritive value. It is used to protect food substances from sunlight. It is usually applied to ice cream, some flavored drinks, cakes, cookies and candies and dairy products such as cheese.

Bottom Line: Safe

FAQs

Is Crystal Light gluten free?

Some varieties are labeled “gluten free,” but not all.

Who makes Crystal Light?

Kraft Foods. The product is sold in the US and Canada.

Who are its major competitors?

Final Verdict

Below is a summary of the ingredients individually listed above and whether they (a) should be avoided or consumed with caution, (b) or safe.

Overall, I think that Crystal Light has too many unsafe and questionable ingredients to be labeled a “good for you” beverage. And with several healthy alternatives available today, I think you’d be better off choosing one of these options instead (things like water, tea, fresh-squeezed juices, and coffee). But ultimately, it’s up to you whether you think the conveniences Crystal Light offers outweigh the risks.

List of Ingredients in Crystal Light to Avoid, or Caution

  1. Citric acid
  2. Maltodextrin
  3. Aspartame
  4. Calcium phosphate
  5. Natural and artificial flavor
  6. Acesulfame potassium
  7. Potassium citrate
  8. Red 40
  9. Blue 1
  10. Phenylalanine

List of Safe Ingredients

  1. Salt
  2. Magnesium oxide
  3. Soy lecithin
  4. Calcium lactate
  5. Rebiana
  6. Sodium citrate
  7. Oleoresin turmeric

Healthy Alternatives to Crystal Light

  1. Lemon water
  2. Tea (I recommend Traditional Medicinals brand)
  3. Sparkling water (my favorite is bubly)
  4. Kombucha
  5. Water
  6. Water with trace mineral drops added

References

  1. Am J Ind Med. 2010 Dec;53(12):1197-206.
  2. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition December 2012 [Epub ahead of print]
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9831784
  4. http://www.aapd.org/assets/1/25/Messer-27-1.pdf
  5. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/cfrsearch.cfm?fr=501.22
  6. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?FR=172.515
  7. http://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-8836/potassium-citrate-oral/details
  8. http://www.livestrong.com/article/285551-potassium-citrate-safety/
  9. https://cspinet.org/resource/food-dyes-rainbow-risks
  10. http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-653-phenylalanine.aspx?activeingredientid=653&activeingredientname=phenylalanine
  11. http://www.livestrong.com/article/444504-aspartame-stomach-cramps/
  12. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/phenylalanine/faq-20058361
  13. http://www.everydayhealth.com/drugs/magnesium-oxide#basics
  14. “Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on food additives, Sixty-ninth Meeting” (PDF). World Health Organization. 4 July 2008.
  15. http://www.colormaker.com/natural-ingredients_turmeric

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