So lately, some clients in my acupuncture practice have been asking me if Crystal Light is bad for them and if it contains toxins.They didn’t actually directly me ask me this –it actually came up in a more roundabout way, with the client not even thinking that drinking Crystal Light could be bad at all. In fact, more than a few people have told me that they would ‘never drink soda’ but instead choose Crystal Light, because it’s “healthier”. Hmmmmm.
To be honest, I never had really given Crystal Light much thought–i mean, chemical flavor powder, amiright? But it’s surprisingly popular among dieters and diabetics because it has negligible calories and low sugar, and from what I understand, Western medical doctors seem to recommend Crystal Light as an alternative to soda. Maybe those of you who already know the outcome of this post (take a WILD guess!) could share it with a friend or family member who drinks Crystal Light–who knows, maybe they will ‘see the light’ LOL. So let’s see what’s wrong with Crystal Light, exactly.
Crystal Light Ingredients and Side Effects
Most flavors of Crystal Light contain pretty much the same ingredients, with a few flavor and coloring variants. Let’s take a look at their Natural Pink Lemonade ingredients:
- Citric Acid
- Potassium Citrate
- Magnesium Oxide
- Contains Less than 2% of Natural Flavor
- Acesulfame Potassium
- Soy Lecithin
- Artificial Color and Red 40
MMMMMmmm sounds yummy all listed out like that, doesn’t it? Makes you want to go guzzle a tall glass of chemicals. No? Let’s break it down. First off, citric acid no es bueno. Why?
Citric Acid: Citric acid is the single most common food additive in the market today, so it’s worth learning what exactly it is. In food, it’s used as a preservative, an emulsifier and a flavoring. Now, when you think about citric acid, what’s the first thing that pops into your mind? Citrus? You wouldn’t be alone in that. Citric acid, as used in food, used to be derived from citrus fruit, Italian lemons to be exact. But after WW1, a new processing method allowed citric acid to be produced from….mold. Yep, mold. Again, let me just say it—SO DELICIOUS.
So citric acid today is produced from black mold, Aspergillus Niger, the same black mold that causes respiratory illness if found in the air ducts of your home air conditioning unit. Not only that, the mold from which the citric acid is produced is more than likely genetically modified. Citric acid still can, of course, be derived from lemons, but using mold is MUCH less expensive, so obviously, that’s the one chosen by food companies.
Potassium Citrate: this additive is used to regulate the acidity of Crystal Light. It is made by adding potassium bicarbonate to citric acid, the additive we just discussed above. Medically, it is used as a diuretic (meaning, it makes you urinate more). I wonder if one of the reasons it’s in Crystal Light is to serve a dehydrating function…after all, the more you pee, the more you need to drink to replace lost fluids, yes? The Mayo Clinic seems to think so. It is also used by physicians to treat kidney stones.
Maltodextrin: this additive is used as a cheap filler in processed foods. While technically derived from natural sources, it is highly processed. Nonetheless, the FDA labels it a safe food additive, and many athletes consider it a good form of carbohydrates when working out.
Numerous studies have shown that maltodextrin has negative effects on your gut bacteria and that, in fact, the ‘bad’ bacteria in your gut seem to THRIVE on it. There has been a disturbing link between the rise in Crohn’s disease and the rise in the use of maltodextrin, according to John Herron, author of The Gut Health Protocol. And if you’ve been reading the news lately, you may have seen the recent research that links depression and brain health to gut health. So could maltodextrin be fueling the rise of depressive disorders in our society? Makes you wonder.
Aspartame: Aspartame is one of the most controversial artificial sweeteners on the market. Now, you can probably guess my feelings on artificial sweeteners–avoid them. But why? Scientists tend to be split on the subject of aspartame, with some claiming it causes headaches, dizziness, depression, nausea, seizures, rashes, tachycardia, memory loss and more. Many scientists believe that the industry funded research which tended to favor particular outcomes (ie. that aspartame is safe). However, the FDA has stated that aspartame is safe for human consumption, albeit not without a great deal of controversy.
My take? Why ingest something so unnatural in the first place?
Magnesium Oxide: considered a safe mineral supplement for treating low magnesium levels in the blood but can interact negatively with certain drugs. Magnesium oxide has been banned in Australia due to its laxative effects.
Acesulfame Potassium: also known as Ace-K, this is another controversial artificial sweetener which has not received the attention that aspartame has. It is 200 times sweeter than sugar. The NIH recognizes the need for more testing on Ace-K to determine its carcinogenic capacity, but recognizes that there IS an association between use of Ace-K and cancer in animals. A 2013 study have also demonstrated a link between Ace-K and changes in metabolic hormone levels in mice, as well as elevated cholesterol levels. In addition, the study determined that:
“Acute ACK [Ace-K] treatment inhibits glycolysis, decreases intracellular ATP production, and inhibits neuroprotective activity and cellular viability. It is interesting to note that many of these dysregulations are potentially associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease , …Our results [further] indicate that chronic ACK-treatment could elicit deleterious effects on the cognitive memory-related functions.”
In plain English? The study demonstrated a strong causal link between Ace-K consumption and problems associated with diseases like Alzheimer’s and memory-related brain tasks. Again, my strong suggestion is to avoid Ace-K at all costs. If you’d like to read the entire study and its results, you may do so here.
Soy Lecithin: This doesn’t sound so bad, right? Soy? Unfortunately, the process by which soy lecithin is produced is, shall we say, less than wonderful. First, the soybean oil is extracted from the beans using a chemical solvent, most often hexane. Then the lecithin is separated from the oil.
Unfortunately, the FDA doesn’t regulate hexane residue in food products, and one study estimated the residue in the oil itself to be to be about 500 to 1000 ppm. What can imagine residues remain in the lecithin as well. In addition, it’s highly likely the soy lecithin was processed from GMO soybeans, another big no-no in my book.
Artificial Color and Red 40: Red 40 is the only color that needs to be specified on labels, according to the FDA because it does not come from plant, mineral or animal sources. What does it come from? Petroleum distillates or coal tar. There is no conclusive science on whether Red 40 is harmful, but studies demonstrate a link between the additive and hyperactivity in children. One older study indicates that Red 40 lowers fertility in mice and leads to lower birth weight and brain weight.
So, the final verdict on Crystal Light is: why risk it? So many of these ingredients are causally linked to pretty nasty stuff in both animals and humans. Why not choose a healthier option, like water? Plain water doesn’t do it for you? There are other choices.
Alternatives to Crystal Light
There are a few healthy, easy alternatives to Crystal Light.
- Water with lemon squeezed into it. Healthy, natural and easy-peasy. (Reminder: use organic lemons, please.)
- Essential oil infused water. This is my personal favorite. I use and recommend one particular brand called Young Living. In particular, I love their Vitality line of essential oils, which are safe for consumption. Some of the flavors that taste great in water are Grapefruit, Lemon, Lime, Lemongrass and Peppermint. (If you’re interested, learn more here.)
- If you really must have a powder, I recommend Natural Calm Magnesium Organic Drink. A powder, like Crystal Light, but much better: non-GMO, gluten-free and organic. If you’re looking for a powder that spices up your drink, you won’t get much better than this.
Okay, so that about covers it. Is Crystal Light bad for you? Yep. Are there better, healthier alternatives? Yes. Peace out. 🙂