It’s often said that diet soda is even worse for you than normal soda. Artificial sweeteners like aspartame have been blamed for everything from weight gain to cancer. But what about “diet” sports drinks like Powerade Zero Sugar? Is Powerade Zero bad for you?
Powerade Zero is a zero-calorie, sugar-free, and caffeine-free sports drink that provides healthy electrolytes. However, it also contains artificial sweeteners and artificial colors that may increase the risk of insulin resistance, hyperactivity in children, and other health issues.
Below, I’ll dig into each ingredient in Powerade Zero and discuss the research on whether they’re healthy. I’ll discuss whether Powerade Zero is a good choice for weight loss, whether it raises blood sugar, and much more!
Is Powerade Zero Good for You?
Here are 10 specific questions I’ll be exploring about Powerade Zero’s nutrition:
- Does Powerade Zero Have Safe Ingredients?
- What Sweetener Does Powerade Zero Have?
- Should I Be Worried About the Artificial Colors?
- Is Powerade Zero Good For Weight Loss?
- Does Powerade Zero Affect Blood Sugar?
- Is Powerade Zero High In Sodium?
- Does Powerade Zero Have Carbs?
- Does Powerade Zero Have Vitamin C?
- Is Powerade Zero Caffeine Free?
- Does Powerade Zero Count As Water Intake?
Note: This post is about the Powerade Zero Sugar product line. It seems to be called “Powerade Zero” in more common usage, so that’s mostly what I’ll call it here.
1. Does Powerade Zero Have Safe Ingredients?
Let’s start by looking at what Powerade Zero is actually made of. I checked the ingredients for 3 popular flavors, and they were all roughly the same:
- Water: Fine. Obviously, water is healthy, and it’s the only ingredient that makes up more than 1% of Powerade Zero. So we’re off to a good start.
- Citric Acid: Fine. One of the most common food additives in the world, citric acid is used as a flavor and preservative in many drinks. It is generally deemed safe.
- Electrolytes: Fine. These include salt, magnesium and calcium chlorides, and mono-potassium phosphate. These are fine as long as you’re not getting too much sodium, which I’ll discuss below.
- Natural Flavors: Fine. Natural flavors are a bit of a mystery because they can come from many sources—but it’s probably something harmless like fruit extracts.
- Artificial Sweeteners: Controversial. Powerade Zero has Sucralose and Acesulfame K. These are probably the sketchiest ingredients in Powerade Zero. We’ll cover them more below.
- Vitamins: Fine. Powerade Zero has added Vitamin B3, B6, and B12. Nothing wrong with that.
- Artificial Colors: Controversial. The flavors I checked contain Red 40, Blue 1, or Yellow 5 and 6. These dyes are controversial, especially for kids. I’ll cover them more in more detail below.
- Ascorbic Acid: Fine. This is another term for vitamin C, which is used as a food preservative to protect the taste. It is considered safe.
- Calcium Disodium EDTA: Fine. Preservative used to protect color. Some people worry about this ingredient, but the only well-documented side effect is digestive upset at very high doses.
As you can see, the main ingredients of concern are the artificial sweeteners and artificial colors. I’ll cover both of these issues in more detail below.
Personally, I try to avoid Powerade Zero because of the artificial sweeteners. I would be fine with the other ingredients. But it all depends on your preferences.
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2. What Sweetener Does Powerade Zero Have?
Powerade 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. Powerade Zero does not contain aspartame.
Another sweetener people sometimes have questions about is xylitol, especially since it is bad for dogs. Powerade Zero does not contain xylitol.
So let’s look at the health concerns around the sweeteners in Powerade 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 of poor 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.
From what I’ve read, erythritol, monk fruit extract, and stevia are the healthiest artificial sweeteners. But there’s still uncertainty about how the body reacts long-term to any of these compounds. Here’s a video that covers more science around artificial sweeteners.
3. Should I Be Worried About the Artificial Colors?
Most flavors of Powerade Zero contain artificial colors like Red 40, Blue 1, and Yellow 5. 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 Powerade Zero.
I’ve made dedicated posts about each of these artificial colors before. But here are some of the specific health concerns people have:
- Red 40: In the European Union, food companies must add a warning to products with Red 40, saying it “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” Red 40 has also been shown to contain small amounts of benzidene, which is a known carcinogen. It’s legally allowed because the amount is so small, there is no presumed negative effect. (source)
- Blue 1: An unpublished study on Blue 1 suggested that it may cause tumors in mice. In addition, one test-tube study found that Blue 1 inhibited nerve cell development. So the effect on unborn fetuses is of concern to some. (source)
- Yellow 5: A 2015 study found that Yellow 5 caused DNA damage in human white blood cells it was exposed to. It’s possible this could lead to tumor formation if it were to happen in amounts that couldn’t be repaired.
- Yellow 6: Yellow 6 often contains known carcinogenic contaminants, including benzidine and 4-amino-biphenyl. These contaminants have been documented at low enough levels that it should not 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)
All of these 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.
A possible solution: If you want to drink Powerade Zero without artificial colors, you may want to look at the White Cherry flavor. It appears to be free of artificial colors. However, it still has artificial sweeteners.
4. Is Powerade Zero Good For Weight Loss?
The main reason people choose zero-calorie drinks like Powerade Zero is to lose weight. But the evidence 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 sucralose doesn’t cause weight gain, either. So sucralose likely won’t make you gain or lose weight.
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 Powerade Zero will not make or break your weight-loss journey by itself.
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5. Does Powerade Zero Affect Blood Sugar?
I wasn’t able to find any research directly on whether Powerade Zero raises blood sugar. However, Powerade Zero contains 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 carbs.
I also found discussions of artificial sweeteners causing insulin issues through another mechanism. That is, the sweet taste of sucralose 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 testing whether Powerade Zero has any affect for you.
6. Is Powerade Zero High In Sodium?
Powerade Zero has 150mg of sodium per serving of 12 fl oz (360 mL). This is a moderate amount of sodium, similar to a handful of salted nuts. It would take 10 servings of Powerade 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 stores while sweating and exercising.
But if you’re just drinking Powerade Zero all day while being sedentary, can you get too much salt? Well, it’s possible.
You’d be more likely to get too much salt from canned foods like soup, frozen TV dinners, and the like, however. Cans of soup often have 1,000+ mg of sodium, over 6 times as much as a serving of Powerade Zero.
The American Heart Association’s official recommendation for sodium intake is to stay under 2,300 mg per day. But they are “moving toward an ideal limit” of 1,500 mg per day. At-risk populations are also given a limit of 1,500 mg.
Considering all this, Powerade Zero is not the worst thing for sodium—but it’s definitely not sodium free, either.
7. Does Powerade Zero Have Carbs?
The Powerade Zero nutrition label shows 0g of carbohydrates per serving. This technically means there are less than 0.5g of carbs per serving. It might not be exactly 0g. That said, Powerade Zero is safely considered low carb and keto-friendly.
This issue is pretty simple, as the nutrition label can’t lie (legally). But here are some related questions that are actually pretty common:
- Is Powerade Zero Really Sugar Free? Powerade 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.
- Does Powerade Zero Really Have No Calories? As per the nutrition label, Powerade Zero is calorie free. Again, the sweet flavor comes from zero-calorie sweeteners, sucralose and acesulfame K.
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8. Does Powerade Zero Have Vitamin C?
Technically, Powerade Zero does contain vitamin C (ascorbic acid). It is used as a food additive to protect the taste. However, there is likely not enough vitamin C present to affect your health positively.
Most people know vitamin C is a helpful antioxidant that can have benefits for your immune system. However, in the case of Powerade Zero, vitamin C is not included as a vitamin supplement, but rather as a preservative.
The Powerade Zero nutrition labels I checked did not show any value for vitamin C content. When I checked a Powerade Ultra label that contains ascorbic acid (vitamin C) used in a similar way, it showed 0mg and 0% daily value for vitamin C.
This leads me to believe that the amount of vitamin C in Powerade Zero is not enough to be beneficial to health. It’s just enough to function as a preservative.
9. Is Powerade Zero Caffeine Free?
Powerade Zero does not contain caffeine. Although it is a sports drink, it is not an energy drink. It is not advertised as providing caffeine, and none of the ingredients contain caffeine naturally.
10. Does Powerade Zero Count As Water Intake?
Powerade Zero contains mostly water, so for many purposes, it would count as water intake. However, as Powerade Zero also contains sodium, artificial sweeteners, and other ingredients, it should not be your only beverage.
The sodium in Powerade Zero can actually help your body absorb and retain the water. But if you’re drinking Powerade Zero all day, you’re going to be getting quite a lot of sodium. (See the section above on this.)
This may make you thirsty for more, and then you drink more and get even more sodium. I know for me personally, I don’t feel satisfied without some simple, pure water to finally quench my thirst.
That said, for many purposes, yes, Powerade Zero achieves everything water consumption achieves, since it contains water. In fact, when electrolytes need to be replenished, physicians will sometimes advise drinking a mix of 50% sports drinks, 50% water.
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