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What's Really In This: Crystal Light

May 13, 2013
Spring brings about warmer weather and outdoor activities, including barbecues and get-togethers. Lemonade and fruit-flavored drinks are popular beverages served at such gatherings. Many health-conscious people opt for a low-calorie version of these warmer-weather favorites, and Crystal Light seems to be the most popular. Many people choose Crystal Light (and products like it) to cut calories, especially if they're drinking it instead of calorie-laden beverages like regular soda, sugar-sweetened soft-drinks, sweetened tea and specialty coffee drinks (Frappuccinos, I'm talking about you). But have you ever wondered, "What's really in this?" Let's take a look at the ingredients in Crystal Light Natural Lemonade.

lite.jpg Citric Acid:  an organic acid that comes from citrus fruits. It acts as a natural preservative and is also used to make foods and beverages taste sour.

Potassium Citrate & Sodium Citrate:  mineral salts used as flavor enhancers. Potassium citrate is found naturally in many foods such as bananas, citrus fruits, melons, tomatoes, apricots, some fish, green leafy vegetables, whole-grains, and legumes.

Aspartame:  Non-nutritive sweetener or sugar substitute, found in a multitude of sugar-free foods. Although aspartame was once controversial, its safety has been affirmed by the FDA 26 times in the past 23 years.

Magnesium Oxide:  Anti-caking agent. Some foods tend to coagulate (clump together), and anti-caking agents prevent this.

Natural Flavor:  According to the Code of Federal Regulations, "The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents 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 thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional." Both artificial and natural flavors are made by "flavorists" in a laboratory by combining either "natural" chemicals or "synthetic" chemicals to make flavorings.

Lemon Juice Solids:  solids extracted from lemons and then turned into a powder.

Acesulfame Potassium:  Non-nutritive sweetener.

Soy Lecithin:  An emulsifier (keeps ingredients from separating).

Artificial Color:  Coloring not found in nature--it's produced in a lab.

Yellow 5:  Synthetically produced (man-made) coloring agent used to make foods more visually appealing (offsets color loss from exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, or moisture, or enhance naturally-occurring colors, or provide color to "colorless" foods).
BHA (Butylated hydroxyanisole):  An antioxidant that acts as a preservative (preserving odor, color, and flavor).

Overall, I'd say Crystal Light can be part of a healthy diet. The artificial sweeteners have been proven to be safe, it's a great way to cut calories and it's better than a lot of other choices. 

One thing that can be frustrating is that many food companies fail to list the actual ingredients of their products online. Sure, many post the nutrition information on their websites (although even this information can be difficult to locate), but often the list of ingredients is missing in action. This may make you wonder if these companies are intentionally trying to hide something or if they're simply out of touch with what kind of information people are looking for when they visit their websites. With so many more people being health-conscious now, it would benefit these food companies to post as much information as possible (including ingredient lists) in a clear, easy-to-access manner.

Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. Contact Kari at KariHartelRD@gmail.com.

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