Sometimes as a kid, I would make Kool-Aid with 3x the recommended amount of sugar. Looking back, that was awful for my body. But what about normal Kool-Aid, with the normal amount of sugar? How bad is Kool-Aid? Let’s talk about that today.
Is Kool-Aid Bad for You?
1. What Is Kool-Aid Made Of?
|Kool-Aid Powder Packet (Orange)||Citric Acid, Maltodextrin, Salt, Natural Flavor, Calcium Phosphate, Contains Less Than 2% Of Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Artificial Flavor, Artificial Color, Red 40, Yellow 5, BHA (Preservative).|
|Kool-Aid Jammers (Tropical Punch)||Filtered Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Contains 2 % Or Less Of Citric Acid, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Natural And Artificial Flavor, Sucralose (Sweetener), Blue 1, Calcium Disodium EDTA (Preserve Freshness).|
|Kool-Aid Bursts (Grape)||Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Contains Less Than 2% Of Artificial Flavor, Sucralose (Sweetener), Citric Acid (For Tartness), Sodium Citrate (Controls Tartness), Red 40, Blue 1, Sodium Benzoate And Potassium Sorbate (To Preserve Freshness), Calcium Disodium EDTA (To Protect Flavor).|
|Kool-Aid Liquid Drink Mix (Cherry)||Water, Citric Acid, Potassium Citrate, Gum Arabic, Sucralose (Sweetener), Contains Less Than 2% Of Artificial Flavor, Acesulfame Potassium (Sweetener), Sucrose Acetate Isobutyrate, Red 40, Blue 1, Potassium Sorbate (Preservative).|
- Some Kool-Aid products have high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Kool-Aid Jammers and Kool-Aid Bursts are sweetened with HFCS. Below, we’ll explore whether HFCS is worse than normal sugar or not—but in any case, it’s not any better!
- Some Kool-Aid products have sucralose. Sucralose is a somewhat controversial artificial sweetener. It reduces the calories and sugar in Kool-Aid Jammers and Kool-Aid Bursts, but it may come with downsides for gut health. Kool-Aid Liquid also has acesulfame potassium. More details on these artificial sweeteners below.
- Kool-Aid Bursts have sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate. These preservatives are a bit controversial for potential cancer risk. Sodium benzoate can potentially turn into benzene, which is a carcinogen. In addition, potassium sorbate (found in Bursts and Kool-Aid Liquid) has been shown to have mutagenic effects in human tissue.
- Kool-Aid packets have BHA. BHA is a preservative that may be carcinogenic. Multiple credible health organizations have concluded that BHA could be “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen,” and that it is “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” (source)
- Kool-Aid powder packets don’t have sugar (or any sweetener). When you make Kool-Aid from a packet, you have to add the sugar yourself. That means the packets are sugar-free. And that means you can potentially sweeten the Kool-Aid with something healthier besides sugar. We’ll explore these options more below.
2. How Much Sugar Is in Kool-Aid?
3. Does Kool-Aid Have Artificial Sweeteners?
Some Kool-Aid products contain the artificial sweeteners sucralose and/or 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. The Kool-Aid products I checked do not contain aspartame.
Another sweetener people sometimes have questions about is xylitol, especially since it is bad for dogs. Kool Aid does not have xylitol.
So let’s look at the health concerns around the sweeteners that are used in several Kool-Aid products—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)
Keep in mind that most of the health concerns around artificial sweeteners are not well proven. They are just concerns. But for many people, the risk feels scary nonetheless. Why take the risk if you don’t have to?
4. Does Kool-Aid Count as Water Intake?
Kool-Aid is mostly water by volume, so for many purposes, it would count as water intake. Kool-Aid can aid in hydration. However, Kool-Aid also contains sugar and other ingredients that are not healthy when consumed in excess, so it should not be your only beverage.
It should also be noted that Kool-Aid doesn’t really have electrolytes. For example, Kool-Aid Jammers only have about 30mg of sodium per pouch. Gatorade has more than twice as much sodium. So Kool-Aid is not a sports drink, and it’s not formulated to assist in rehydration.
That said, for many purposes, yes, when you drink Kool-Aid, you are consuming water along with the other ingredients. So Kool-Aid does generally count toward your total water/fluid intake.
5. Are the Artificial Colors in Kool-Aid Safe?
Kool-Aid has artificial colors like Yellow 5, Red 40, and others depending on the flavor. 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 Kool-Aid.
In 2004, researchers from Harvard and Columbia University estimated that removing artificial food coloring from the diets of children with ADHD would be about one-third or one-half as effective as treating them with Ritalin.
Some research has suggested that as little as 50 mg per day of artificial food colorings could cause behavioral changes in children. And the same research noted that a single serving of Kool-Aid Burst Cherry has more than that (52.3 mg)! (source)
So, according to that research, Kool-Aid may indeed causes behavioral changes like hyperactivity in children.
There may also be cancer risks from some of these artificial colors, but the evidence is not solid:
- Yellow 5: A 2015 study found that Yellow 5 caused DNA damage in human white blood cells that it was exposed to. It is possible that this DNA damage could lead to tumor formation if it were to happen in amounts that could not be repaired.
- Yellow 6: 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 kidney/adrenal tumors—but this result is disputed. (source, source)
- Red 40: Red 40 has small amounts of benzidene, which is a known carcinogen. It’s legally allowed because the amount is small enough to have no presumed effect. The EU requires foods with Red 40 to bear a warning saying it “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”
- Blue 1: 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 have taken steps to add warnings or ban some of these dyes.
It’s actually hard to find good credible sources on which of these dyes are currently banned in which countries. But I found the most credible documentation that Yellow 6 is banned in Japan and several European countries.
6. Does Kool-Aid Have Caffeine?
Kool-Aid does not have caffeine. It is not an energy drink. It is not advertised as providing caffeine, and none of the ingredients have caffeine naturally. Kool-Aid should not keep you awake.
Caffeine is an interesting ingredient because it has documented health benefits, but it can also be bad in many cases. Studies show it may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s… But it’s habit forming, and too much can disrupt sleep.
In any case, Kool-Aid is caffeine free!
7. Is Kool-Aid High in Sodium?
8. Does Kool-Aid Make You Gain Weight?
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9. Is Kool-Aid Healthier Than Soda?
Let’s compare Kool-Aid with the most popular soda in the world, Coca-Cola. We’ll look at a 6 fl oz serving of each. That’s 1 pouch of Kool-Aid Jammers and 1/2 can of Coke:
|Kool-Aid Jammers (1 pouch)||70||16g||30mg|
|Coca-Cola (1/2 can)||70||20g||23mg|
As you can see, these drinks are pretty similar nutritionally. Coca-Cola is higher in sugar, and Kool-Aid Jammers are higher in sodium—but neither is a big difference.
What about the ingredients? Well, they both have some questionable ingredients along with the sugar itself. Coca-Cola has caramel color and sodium benzoate, which have been linked to potential carcinogens, and phosphoric acid, which may lead to osteoporosis and tooth decay.
Meanwhile, Kool-Aid Jammers have sucralose and artificial colors like Red 40. And we already covered above why these ingredients are often considered unhealthy.
Overall, the real answer is that neither Kool-Aid nor Coke are healthy drinks. If I had to choose one, I might choose Kool-Aid, just to get slightly less sugar—but neither drink is healthy.
10. Is Kool-Aid Healthier Than Capri Sun?
Now let’s look at Kool-Aid vs Capri Sun. We’ll be comparing the pouches, so Kool-Aid Jammers and Capri Sun, actually:
|Kool-Aid Jammers (1 pouch)||70||16g||30mg|
|Capri Sun Juice Drink (1 pouch)||35||5g||15mg|
Here you can see, Capri Sun is a bit lower in calories, sugar, and sodium. So Capri Sun looks like the winner in this regard, but what about when looking at the ingredients?
Honestly, Capri Sun ingredients look better than Kool-Aid, too:
Capri Sun Juice Drink (Fruit Punch) Ingredients: Filtered Water; Sugar; Pear And Grape Juice Concentrates; Citric Acid; Orange, Apple And Pineapple Juice Concentrates; Natural Flavor; Mushroom Extract (To Protect Quality).
Capri Sun has sugar, but aside from that, it’s mostly just juice concentrates, natural flavors, and strangely enough, mushroom extract. But there are no artificial colors, artificial sweeteners, or questionable preservatives like found in many Kool-Aid products.
So, based on these two products, it seems that Capri Sun is a bit healthier than Kool-Aid. But keep in mind: There are many product lines by Kool-Aid and Capri Sun. The comparison may look different depending on the specific products you compare.
11. Is It Bad to Drink Kool-Aid Every Day?
12. Is Kool-Aid Bad for You Without Sugar?
It is possible to make a drink from Kool-Aid packets without sugar. But even if you replace the sugar with a healthier sweetener, your Kool-Aid will still have multiple unhealthy or controversial ingredients. Artificial colors like Red 40 and BHA would probably be the biggest concerns.
How do you sweeten Kool-Aid without sugar? Well, it’s possible to buy natural zero-calorie sweeteners at the store. You could add one of those instead of sugar. Stevia, erythritol, or monk fruit extract might be interesting choices.
As I covered in my Zevia soda review, there are still some potential downsides with natural zero-calorie sweeteners like stevia—but they seem better than sugar or artificial sweeteners to me.
Honestly, the healthiest Kool-Aid alternatives would not even use Kool-Aid powder at all. They would avoid artificial colors and preservatives all together. For example, check out this cranberry drink formulated by Dr. Michael Greger.
13. Is Kool-Aid Vegan?
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