Whenever you see foods or drinks that are “sugar free,” it’s worth checking the details. Often, the replacement ingredients are even worse for you than sugar. Today, we’ll take a look at Gatorade Zero and ask the question: Is Gatorade Zero actually healthy?
Gatorade Zero is a sugar-free, caffeine-free sports drink that helps to replenish electrolytes. However, it also has artificial sweeteners and artificial colors that may raise the risk of insulin resistance, hyperactivity in children, and other health issues. This makes its healthiness questionable.
Below, I’ll look closely at the ingredients and nutrition facts of Gatorade Zero. I’ll discuss whether it’s a good choice for weight loss, whether it raises blood sugar, and much more! I’ll also compare it with regular Gatorade, water, and soda.
Is Gatorade Zero Good for You?
Here are 14 specific questions I’ll be exploring about Gatorade Zero’s nutrition:
- What Does Gatorade Zero Have in It?
- Does Gatorade Zero Have Artificial Sweeteners?
- Are the Color Dyes in Gatorade Zero Safe?
- Why Does Gatorade Zero Have Calories?
- Does Gatorade Zero Have Electrolytes?
- Is Gatorade Zero High In Sodium?
- Is Gatorade Zero Good for Weight Loss?
- Does Gatorade Zero Raise Blood Sugar?
- Does Gatorade Zero Have Caffeine?
- Can Gatorade Zero Count As Water Intake?
- Is Gatorade Zero Better Than Regular Gatorade?
- Is Gatorade Zero Better Than Soda?
- Is Gatorade Zero Better Than Water?
- Is Gatorade Zero Vegan?
1. What Does Gatorade Zero Have in It?
Let’s start by actually looking at some Gatorade Zero ingredients. Below is a table showing three flavors. Most of the ingredients are the same for each flavor, but the coloring is actually quite different between flavors.
I’ll share my takeaway points below the table:
|Gatorade Zero Flavor||Ingredients|
|Orange||Water, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Salt, Monopotassium Phosphate, Gum Arabic, Natural Flavor, Sucralose, Acesulfame Potassium, Sucrose Acetate Isobutyrate, Glycerol Ester Of Rosin, Yellow 6.|
|Berry||Water, Citric Acid, Natural Flavor, Sodium Citrate, Salt, Monopotassium Phosphate, Vegetable Juice Concentrate (Color), Modified Food Starch, Sucralose, Acesulfame Potassium, Glycerol Ester Of Rosin.|
|Glacier Cherry||Water, Citric Acid, Natural Flavor, Sodium Citrate, Salt, Monopotassium Phosphate, Modified Food Starch, Mixed Triglycerides, Sucralose, Glycerol Ester Of Rosin, Acesulfame Potassium.|
Here are the 3 biggest points I notice from these ingredients:
- Gatorade Zero has artificial sweeteners. On the bright side, Gatorade Zero doesn’t have sugar. But instead, it has Sucralose and Acesulfame K. These are controversial zero-calorie sweeteners, and they’re likely the worst aspect of Gatorade Zero. I’ll explore this more below.
- Gatorade Zero has added electrolytes. This is the main point of sports drinks like Gatorade Zero. It helps replace electrolytes like sodium and potassium as you lose them in your sweat. But does Gatorade Zero have too much sodium? We’ll cover that below.
- Most flavors of Gatorade Zero have artificial colors. As you can see above, the Orange flavor has Yellow 6, which is controversial for its possible health effects. We’ll explore artificial colors more below.
In my opinion, the biggest concern in Gatorade Zero for most people would be the artificial sweeteners. So we’ll cover those in-depth in the next section.
- Is There Anything Bad In Gatorade Zero? Some people consider the artificial sweeteners and artificial colors in Gatorade Zero to be bad. Some research links them to health risks like insulin resistance, migraines, hyperactivity in children, and possibly cancer.
3. Does Gatorade Zero Have Artificial Sweeteners?
Gatorade Zero contains two artificial sweeteners, sucralose and acesulfame potassium. Both of these sweeteners are FDA approved and generally recognized as safe, but there remains some controversy around the long-term health impacts of each.
The most widely controversial artificial sweetener is probably aspartame. Personally, I avoid aspartame because of the research showing possible connections to depression. Gatorade Zero does not contain aspartame.
Another sweetener people sometimes have questions about is xylitol, especially since it is bad for dogs. Gatorade Zero does not contain xylitol.
So let’s look at the health concerns around the sweeteners in Gatorade Zero—sucralose and acesulfame K.
First, let’s cover sucralose:
- Sucralose seems to be a migraine trigger for some people. (source, source)
- Sucralose may cause insulin resistance through multiple mechanisms (more on that below).
- Sucralose has been shown to have a surprisingly minimal effect on weight loss.
What about acesulfame K?
- Studies in the 1970s suggested that acesulfame K might cause cancer—but the studies were not good quality. (source)
- One breakdown product of acesulfame K—acetoacetamide—may cause damage to the thyroid. (source)
- In a study of lactating women, acesulfame K was the artificial sweetener most found to make its way into breast milk. (source)
Most of the health concerns around artificial sweeteners are not well proven. But for many people, the risk feels scary nonetheless. Why take the risk if you don’t have to?
There’s still some uncertainty about how the human body reacts long-term to any artificial sweeteners. From what I’ve read, the healthiest zero-calorie sweeteners are likely to be erythritol, monk fruit extract, and stevia.
Here’s a video that covers more on the science around artificial sweeteners.
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3. Are the Color Dyes in Gatorade Zero Safe?
Several flavors of Gatorade Zero have artificial colors like Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Blue 1. Research suggests that artificial colors cause hyperactivity and behavioral issues in some children. There are also concerns around possible carcinogens in artificial colors used in Gatorade Zero.
I’ve made dedicated posts about each of these artificial colors before. But here are some of the specific health concerns people have:
- Yellow 5 (in the Lemon-Lime Flavor): A 2015 study found that Yellow 5 caused DNA damage in human white blood cells that it was exposed to. It’s possible that this could lead to tumor formation if it were to happen in amounts that can’t be repaired.
- Yellow 6 (in the Orange Flavor): Yellow 6 often contains known carcinogenic contaminants, including benzidine and 4-amino-biphenyl. These contaminants have only been documented at low levels where it shouldn’t be cause for concern, however. There were also animal trials where Yellow 6 resulted in the formation of kidney/adrenal tumors—but this result is disputed. (source, source)
- Blue 1 (in the Glacier Freeze Flavor): : An unpublished study on Blue 1 suggested that it may cause tumors in mice. In addition, a test-tube study found that Blue 1 inhibited nerve cell development. So the effect on unborn fetuses may be of concern. (source)
All of these artificial colors are still being tested on animals to determine their safety. The most established problem is hyperactivity in kids. Some governments around the world have taken steps to add warnings or ban some of these dyes.
It’s actually hard to find good sources on which of these dyes are actually banned in which countries. There seems to be misinformation online about this. I found the most credible references to Yellow 6 being banned in Japan and several European countries.
If you want to drink Gatorade Zero without artificial colors, then try out the Berry and Glacier Cherry flavors. These are free of artificial colors. The Berry flavor is sweetened with vegetable juice concentrates. The Glacier Cherry flavor is white, so no dye is needed. However, they still have artificial sweeteners.
4. Why Does Gatorade Zero Have Calories?
If you look at the nutrition facts for Gatorade Zero, you’ll notice something interesting.
It says “0 Calories” when you’re looking at the nutrition for an 12 oz serving… But it says “10 Calories” when you look at the nutrition for a whole container. (Actually, for the Orange flavor it only says “5 Calories.”)
Gatorade Zero actually has a very small amount of calories. These calories seem to come from the 2g of total carbs per container.
Looking at the ingredients list, I’m guessing that these carb calories come from “modified food starch” or similar ingredients. These are carbohydrates used in small quantities in Gatorade Zero.
In any case, Gatorade Zero is basically a zero-calorie drink. These 5-10 calories per container should not be enough to really be concerned about them from a dieting standpoint.
- Is Gatorade Zero Really Sugar Free? Although it is not completely carb free, Gatorade Zero is sugar free. It has no sugar, corn syrup, or any other sweetener that adds calories. Instead, it uses sugar-free artificial sweeteners Sucralose and Acesulfame K.
5. Does Gatorade Zero Have Electrolytes?
Gatorade Zero has around 160mg of sodium and 50mg of potassium per 12-oz serving. This is the same amount of electrolytes as in regular Gatorade.
This means you can get the same amount of electrolytes as regular Gatorade, but without the sugar of Gatorade. However, you get artificial sweeteners in Gatorade Zero instead, which some people consider just as bad (or worse), for the reasons covered above.
Now let’s answer some questions about a specific electrolyte in Gatorade—sodium!
6. Is Gatorade Zero High In Sodium?
Gatorade Zero has 160mg of sodium per serving of 12 fl oz (360 mL). This is a moderate amount of sodium, similar to one and a half handfuls of salted nuts. It would take 9 or 10 servings of Gatorade Zero to reach the American Heart Association’s ideal limit of 1,500 mg of sodium per day.
A lot of people don’t realize that the “electrolytes” in sports drinks include basic table salt. This is because it’s important to replenish your body’s salt while sweating and exercising.
But if you’re just drinking Gatorade Zero all day while being sedentary, can you get too much salt? It’s possible.
You’d be more likely to get too much salt from canned foods like frozen TV dinners, soup, and the like, though. Cans of soup can have 1,000+ mg of sodium—over 6 times as much as a serving of Gatorade Zero.
The American Heart Association’s official recommendation for sodium intake is to stay under 2,300 mg per day. But they’ve announced that they are “moving toward an ideal limit” of 1,500 mg per day. Certain at-risk populations are also given a limit of 1,500 mg.
Considering all this, Gatorade Zero is honestly not the worst thing for sodium—but it’s not sodium free, either.
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7. Is Gatorade Zero Good for Weight Loss?
One of the main reasons people choose zero-calorie drinks like Gatorade Zero is to lose weight. But the evidence actually shows that artificial sweeteners are surprisingly ineffective for weight loss.
That is, you’d expect that switching from sugar to artificial sweeteners would cause significant weight-loss… but in most studies, they cause little to no weight loss.
One explanation is this: Artificial sweeteners keep you accustomed to sweet foods. So you still get cravings for sweets, and you’ll probably end up eating more calories from somewhere.
That said, the studies I reviewed suggested that the artificial sweetener sucralose doesn’t cause weight gain, either. So, sucralose likely won’t affect your weight one way or the other, based on the evidence.
Remember: The key to weight loss is your overall calorie balance. So if your goal is weight loss, then consider tracking your calories as I describe in this post—or else follow some of these 18 tips for weight loss without counting calories.
Whether you drink Gatorade Zero will not make or break your weight-loss journey by itself.
8. Does Gatorade Zero Raise Blood Sugar?
I didn’t find any peer-reviewed research directly on whether Gatorade Zero raises blood sugar. However, Gatorade Zero does have sucralose, which has been shown to affect insulin resistance.
Sucralose is not absorbed in the small intestine like normal sugar, so it ends up in the large intestine. Apparently, it alters your gut bacteria there, affecting your tolerance to carbohydrates.
So theoretically, drinking a lot of Gatorade Zero may worsen your blood sugar control. But this hasn’t been tested directly, to my knowledge.
There are also suspicions that artificial sweeteners may cause an insulin response through another mechanism. That is, the sweet taste of artificial sweeteners may trigger an insulin response even without real sugar in your bloodstream.
So, proceed with caution. If blood-sugar control is crucial for you, I’d recommend using a glucometer like this one to actually test whether Gatorade Zero has any affect for you.
9. Does Gatorade Zero Have Caffeine?
Gatorade Zero does not contain caffeine. Although it is a sports drink, Gatorade Zero is not an energy drink. It is not marketed as providing caffeine, and none of the ingredients have caffeine naturally.
- Does Gatorade Zero keep you awake? There is no reason Gatorade Zero would keep you awake. It is not a stimulant or energy drink. It is caffeine free, and it doesn’t even have sugar.
10. Can Gatorade Zero Count As Water Intake?
Gatorade Zero is mostly water, so for many purposes, it could count as “water intake.” However, as Gatorade Zero also has sodium, artificial sweeteners, and other ingredients, it should not be your only beverage.
The sodium in Gatorade Zero can actually help your body absorb and retain the water. But if you’re drinking Gatorade Zero all day, you’re going to be getting quite a lot of sodium. (See the section above on this.)
That said, for many purposes, yes, Gatorade Zero achieves everything water intake achieves, since it contains water. In fact, when electrolytes need to be replenished, physicians sometimes advise drinking sports drinks (or a mix of sports drinks and water).
11. Is Gatorade Zero Better Than Regular Gatorade?
Gatorade Zero has the same electrolytes as Gatorade, without the sugar or artificial colors. For this reason, some people consider Gatorade Zero healthier than regular Gatorade. However, Gatorade Zero has artificial sweeteners, which come with other possible risks. Therefore, it depends on your priorities and concerns.
Personally, I’d rather drink Gatorade Zero than regular Gatorade. The sugar in normal Gatorade is way too much for me personally. I try to avoid spikes in my blood sugar due to how it affects my acne.
However, I wouldn’t want to drink a lot of Gatorade Zero on a regular basis, either. As covered above, it could have a negative effect on my insulin sensitivity and possibly cause other problems eventually
Neither Gatorade Zero nor regular Gatorade are really healthy drinks. Drinking coconut water, tap water, or unsweetened tea would usually be a healthier choice.
12. Is Gatorade Zero Better Than Soda?
Many people would consider Gatorade Zero better than soda, as Gatorade Zero is free of sugar and calories. However, Gatorade Zero still has artificial sweeteners—sucralose and acesulfame potassium—which make it controversial from a health perspective.
The artificial sweeteners in Gatorade Zero are commonly used in diet sodas, as well. But Gatorade Zero still might be a little better compared to diet sodas, if you choose one of the flavors that doesn’t have artificial colors (Berry or Glacier Cherry).
Neither Gatorade Zero nor soda are really healthy drinks, though. If you’re looking for a healthy alternative to soda, you should try seltzer water. It’s just fizzy water with natural flavor—no sugar or other sweeteners.
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13. Is Gatorade Zero Better Than Water?
If you acutely need rehydration and electrolytes, then Gatorade Zero may be better than water in that moment. But in most other situations, plain water would likely be healthier to drink.
If you need to rehydrate due to prolonged exercise or heat exposure, the benefits of Gatorade Zero could outweigh the drawbacks, compared to water. In those situations, drinking too much water without electrolytes can actually result in salt depletion heat exhaustion.
In such situations, you can also replenish your electrolytes with natural options like sea salt, coconut water, and other high-electrolyte foods. But Gatorade Zero and other sports drinks are a convenient option.
In normal day-to-day life, water is the ideal drink for most of your fluids. It has none of the extra, unnatural ingredients found in sports drinks like Gatorade Zero.
14. Is Gatorade Zero Vegan?
All flavors of Gatorade Zero are generally considered vegan. They have no milk, eggs, honey, or other animal byproducts.
The only reason I can imagine that someone would say Gatorade Zero isn’t vegan is due to animal testing. The artificial sweeteners and colors in Gatorade Zero have been tested on animals extensively.
In my blog post about sucralose, I explained the cruel and sad animal testing that was done to prove the safety of sucralose. It is said that over 12,000 animals died in the testing of sucralose.
That said, boycotting drinks like Gatorade Zero today can’t undo the animal testing that was already done. So most vegans are okay with consuming these artificial sweeteners and colors.
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