When I wrote the Best and Worst Electrolyte Drinks in 2013, I didn’t know it would cause a major domino effect in companies changing their formulas. High fructose corn syrup, sugar, food dyes, sodium benzoate, aspartame, sucralose and “natural” flavor with a little salt and potassium has been the main recipe variation for the majority of commercial electrolyte drinks.
What about Gatorade? Is Gatorade good for you? Many of you probably have grown up with Gatorade, with memories of Michael Jordan and drinking it during timeouts or half-time childhood sports games. The question “is Gatorade good for you” in the ’80s and ’90s was never really asked, and there really wasn’t a lot of electrolyte drinks to choose from. Gatorade was the only “thirst quencher” and contained electrolytes, so it must be good for you. Right? Remember, this was also during the time of cold cereals like Cookie Crisp and Count Chocula for breakfast. Let’s face it, these weren’t our best years of nutrition.
What Does Gatorade Do? Does Gatorade Really Hydrate You?
Gatorade attempts to hydrate you through a sugar, salt, and potassium water mixture. The fact that Gatorade became an electrolyte staple shows the power of branding and marketing. Instead of quenching your thirst, you could argue that Gatorade actually depletes electrolytes based on the sugar content and therefore is not effectively hydrating you. Gatorade only includes the electrolytes sodium and potassium, ignoring chloride, calcium, and magnesium. All of these electrolytes are crucial for preventing muscle cramps and aiding in faster recovery.
Gatorade’s Rise to the Throne
Gatorade still controls 77% of the sports drinks sales in the U.S. has been around for almost 50 years. It was originally developed for football players in the Florida heat. Ironically, billions of Gatorade sales go to the average consumer that does not require this sodium and sugar concoction.
During this 50-year reign, Gatorade’s nutrition facts included high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener, brominated vegetable oils (a flame retardant that has been banned in Japan and the EU that harms the thyroid gland), hydrogenated oils (linked to heart disease) and food dyes made from oil. It was an absolute liquid abomination. The damage that has been done to the human race by high fructose corn syrup is profound. Today in the U.S., two out of three adults are overweight or obese. Take a look at the chart below to see when HFCS really took off and its correlation with obesity.
How Much Sugar Does Gatorade Have? What are the other Ingredients?
In case you were wondering if Gatorade is really that bad for you, here are Gatorade’s new nutrition facts and ingredients label:
Along with a ridiculous amount of sugar (36 grams), you may also glance over glycerol ester of rosin, natural flavor, and yellow #5. “Glycerol ester of rosin” sounds like some romanticized essential oil from biblical times. This is actually a food additive to keep oil suspended in a liquid. This was Gatorade’s answer to brominated vegetable oils that they were so fond of for decades. There are no long term studies on glycerol ester of rosin, and therefore the long-term effects are currently unknown.
Natural flavor is always ambiguous and corporations don’t have to tell you what it is, including if it is MSG. It is the fourth most common ingredient in foods after salt, sugar, and water. In the lab, the differences between natural flavor and the artificial flavor become fuzzy, because the starting material may be natural, but the end product is a highly purified chemical isolate.
In my early days in the organic chemistry lab, I couldn’t believe the chemical process involved to make a “natural” banana flavor. How about that nice lemon and lime color? Does that come from freshly picked citrus? No, it comes from the food dye yellow #5. Yellow #5 has been found to be contaminated with benzidine, carcinogens, and found to cause hypersensitivity reactions and genotoxicity.
News Flash: High Fructose Corn Syrup and Sucrose Do the Same Amount of Damage
Gatorade switched back to sucrose (cane sugar) due to the backlash of people avoiding high fructose corn syrup and the reputation that Gatorade is bad for you. But here’s the thing; apparently there is no difference between high fructose corn syrup and sucrose intake in terms of damage. When you look at the composition, HFCS is made of fructose and glucose with the ratio in favor of fructose. Sucrose is made up of glucose and fructose in a 1:1 ratio.
Gatorade has thirty-four grams of refined sugar is close to thirty-nine grams of sugar in 1 can of coke. Published studies have demonstrated that the physiological response to HFCS is virtually identical in levels of glucose, insulin, leptin, ghrelin, and appetite in normal-weight and obese women. Another study found that both men and women demonstrated no difference in triglycerides after HFCS or sucrose was consumed as 25% of total caloric intake.
What’s the Difference Between Isolated Sucrose and Sucrose in Whole Foods?
When you isolate something like sugar, you strip away all of the fiber, enzymes, antioxidants, polyphenols, vitamins, and minerals that make up the intelligent design that nature intended for optimal health. Coconut water is an excellent example of everything being in the right balance. Coconut water has 16 grams of sugar and is broken down into 50% glucose, 35% sucrose and 15% fructose.
Research from 2012 and 2015 found that coconut water prevents hyperglycemia, protects the kidneys, lowers oxidative stress, and has anti-glycation properties. It is a top source of potassium, magnesium, calcium, lower in sodium, B-vitamins, vitamin C, and enzymes. How do you think sugar water like Gatorade would hold up in these studies? Along with the depleting of minerals caused by sugar and altering your oral flora for healthy teeth, it has also been found to increase the strains of bad bacteria like c difficile (C-Diff) and clostridium perfringens (one of the main strains of bacteria responsible for food poisoning).
What about Organic Gatorade?
Gatorade is doubling down and has released an “organic” Gatorade that uses organic cane sugar in a blatant attempt to put lipstick on a pig. They have taken the food dyes out, but the ambiguous “natural flavor” is always a proprietary secret that may contain MSG. One 16.9 ounce bottle contains 29 grams of sugar and 240 milligrams of sodium. Gatorade’s organic choice is completely superficial. Sugar is sugar. It doesn’t matter if it is organic or not.
What are the Best Gatorade Alternatives?
The Health Beat has done extensive research to organize the best Gatorade alternatives for regular hydration, fitness, and diabetes. Essentially, you want to look for a balanced electrolyte profile of sodium, chloride, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Stevia can be used for a sweetener, but sucrose, fructose, acesulfame K, aspartame, sucralose and food dyes should all be avoided.
What do You Think? Is Gatorade Good for You?
While Gatorade has been forced to make changes in their formulation, they continue to dominate the electrolyte market with a formula designed just like the producers of fast food. Create a high sugar, a high salt flavor profile that is addicting and makes the consumer always wanting more. As far as Gatorade is concerned, the health consequences of your choice to consume it is your problem. As long as you are addicted and can’t seem to quench your thirst with enough Gatorade, their mission is complete.