>> Wednesday, March 4, 2009
A while back I wrote a post about how liquid Gatorade contains HFCS while the powdered form does not. To recap, I didn't like that Gatorade skirted around the issue of their drink containing HFCS in their website's FAQ by saying it didn't contain fruit juice and also that I couldn't find their products' ingredients anywhere on their website. I e-mailed the company asking them about these things but hadn't heard anything from them by the time the original Gatorade post published. That changed not long after my post came out.
A representative at Gatorade read my blog post and e-mailed me, and she was happy to discuss any and all questions I had for her. I was referred to one of their nutritionists who gave me this response:
You said you have your PhD in chemical engineering, and you have obviously been doing quite a bit of research on HFCS. The reason Gatorade favors a blend of three carbohydrates (glucose, sucrose and fructose) as opposed to using fruit juice (which is primarily fructose) is because fructose does slow gastric emptying and very often causes intestinal upset when taken by athletes prior to and during practice and competition. The statement you mentioned about Gatorade “not containing fruit juice” was not meant to imply it does not contain HFCS, but rather to simply and plainly assure athletes Gatorade does not contain fructose at levels that can cause gastrointestinal upset. In my practice in New York City, I have counseled many athletes who have tried using diluted juice in an effort to “be healthy and all natural,” only to find their good efforts wasted when their intestinal system betrays them during their event. I know first hand as well, as I too have had this unfortunate situation occur. I did not have access to a sports drink during a recent 16 mile run and wound up having severe gastrointestinal distress after drinking diluted fruit juice mixed with salt in an attempt to create my own sports drink.
The Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI) has scientifically studied the effects of adding different combinations and types of sugars as well as electrolytes to plain water in order to design a drink that best meets the hydration needs of athletes. Athletes need to replace fluids, salt and carbohydrates when engaging in endurance activities. That is where Gatorade comes in. Gatorade’s combination of three carbohydrates (glucose, sucrose and fructose) is rapidly absorbed and used for energy. It also helps increase an athlete’s drive to drink, thereby helping athletes maintain a better hydration status while exercising.
Another question I understand you posed relates to the difference in sweetener sources used between the ready-to-drink Gatorade product and the powdered version. HFCS exists only in syrup/liquid form so that is why dextrose is used in powdered Gatorade instead. When you break down all the sugars used to create the appropriate blend of carbohydrate in both the ready-to-drink and liquid products, each have the same amounts of glucose and fructose.
If your goal is to eat as healthfully as you can, then I highly encourage you to eat locally grown organic foods and to choose foods with minimal processing. If you (or anyone) is concerned with HFCS, then the powdered Gatorade is certainly your best option. However, I firmly believe, and the science continues to confirm, that HFCS is not different from other sweeteners in terms of its effects on total calorie intake and satiety, and may safely be used by athletes to help maintain adequate hydration (prevent either over or under hydration) with exercise.
I commend your efforts to improve the quality of your diet and health, and I almost wish it were as simple as eliminating one ingredient from our diets. No single food or ingredient has lead to our country’s obesity or health problems. Instead, it is a complex relationship between over consumption of total calories (from fat, carbohydrate, sugar and protein) and lack of exercise that has and continues to plague far too many individuals and families.
I'll let you come to your conclusions about her letter. We clearly have different views on HFCS, but that is to be expected. One thing that I clearly take exception to in the nutritionist's response is the sugar composition of the liquid and powdered versions of Gatorade. She states that they both have the same amount of glucose and fructose, but unless my sleep-deprived brain is missing something, I don't think this is right. The liquid Gatorade contains sucrose and HFCS - both roughly 50% fructose and 50% glucose (the two are bound together in sucrose and in free forms in HFCS). The powdered version contains sucrose and dextrose (aka glucose) with no free fructose. The powdered version appears to contain less fructose than the liquid version. It might be a fine point, but the two clearly are not quite the same compositionally.
While I don't agree with Gatorade's ingredient choices, I do commend them for taking the time to answer my questions. I didn't continue the conversation with their nutritionist, but I'm certain that she would have taken the time to answer any questions I might have thrown at her - or to debate further HFCS as an ingredient.
I've put off writing this post for a long while, and I'm glad that I did. As I sat down to write tonight, I took a look at Gatorade's redesigned website and noticed some changes. First, they specifically address their inclusion of HFCS in their product in their FAQ. Here's what they say:
Does Gatorade include High Fructose Corn Syrup? Why or Why not?
The High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is in Gatorade as a source of two of the three carbohydrates. HFCS contributes glucose and fructose. Sucrose is the third sugar. All are present in specific amounts that research has shown assures rapid fluid absorption, optimal energy delivery and great taste. High Fructose Corn Syrup and sucrose provide the ideal level of sweetness, fast absorption, and carbohydrate for energy burning that Gatorade has always delivered.
This formula provides the most efficacious product for the cost to the consumer. We could use other sources of the same sugars – glucose and fructose – but it would cost dramatically more and have no additional benefit. Scientific experts believe there is no scientific proof to show that there is any difference between the effects on the body of HFCS and sucrose. Research shows that your body digests and uses carbohydrates from high fructose corn syrup the same way it digests other sweeteners like table sugar.1
1 American Medical Association. Report 3 of the Council on Science and Public Health, 2008.
I like that they acknowledge that they use HFCS in large part because it's cheaper. We might disagree on the research being conclusive at this point (though I fully acknowledge that our refusal of HFCS is about much more than just the research du jour and that HFCS may indeed be processed just like sucrose, but I think that it's still premature to call them the same), but we agree on it being a cheap ingredient.
Another positive change on their website is that you can actually see the ingredients in their products. It's fairly easy and intuitive to see the ingredients of each of their products right on the front page. It bothers me when companies tout nutritional claims about their product and then don't list their ingredients - it seems as if they are trying to perhaps hide something - so I applaud Gatorade for being up front about what is in their products.
We'll keep drinking powdered Gatorade - though sparingly. (Gatorade made it abundantly clear that their product is a sugar filled drink.) I like that it has less fructose in it, and we're (of course) sticking to our no-HFCS guns.
Gatorade, if you're reading this, love your new website redesign! Now how about ditching the HFCS?