One time, I had to go to the hospital for heat exhaustion due to “salt depletion.” Ever since then, I’m much more aware of replenishing my electrolytes after sweating! However, I’m still a bit cautious about drinks like Propel… Why is that? Is Propel bad for you?
Propel is a sugar-free, zero-calorie, and caffeine-free sports drink that provides healthy electrolytes. However, it also contains two artificial sweeteners—sucralose and acesulfame potassium—which may raise the risk of insulin resistance and other health issues.
Below, I’ll dig into the ingredients of Propel and discuss the science on whether they’re healthy. I’ll cover whether Propel is good for weight loss, whether it raises blood sugar, whether it has too much sodium, and more.
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Is Proper Water Good for You?
Here are the 13 questions we’re going to answer in this post. Click to skip ahead to any of them:
- What Ingredients Are in Propel Water?
- What Sweeteners Are In Propel?
- Does Propel Have Sugar or Carbs?
- Does Propel Raise Blood Sugar?
- Is Propel Water Good for Weight Loss?
- Does Propel Water Have Electrolytes?
- Is Propel Water High In Sodium?
- Is Propel Water Caffeine Free?
- Is Propel as Good for You as Water?
- Is Propel Water Better Than Gatorade?
- Is Propel Water Better Than Soda?
- Is It Okay To Drink Propel Every Day?
- Is Propel Vegan?
1. What Ingredients Are in Propel Water?
Let’s start by looking at what Propel actually contains. Propel has a few different product lines, including an “Immune Support” line. But most of the ingredients are the same.
So let’s look at the standard Propel Electrolyte Water, as of August 2021:
Propel Berry Electrolyte Water Ingredients: Water, Citric Acid, Sodium Hexametaphosphate (To Protect Flavor), Natural Flavor, Salt, Potassium Sorbate (Preserves Freshness), Potassium Citrate, Sodium Citrate, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Sucralose, Acesulfame Potassium, Calcium Disodium EDTA (To Protect Flavor), Calcium Pantothenate (Vitamin B5), Niacinamide (Vitamin B3), Vitamin E Acetate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6).
Here’s what I notice about these ingredients:
- Propel is sweetened with sucralose and acesulfame potassium. These artificial sweeteners have zero calories, but some research connects them to other health issues. We’ll explore the evidence in more detail below.
- Propel is a source of electrolytes. Propel has significantly more sodium and potassium than tap water. This can be positive if you’re sweating from exercise or heat exposure. But is it too much sodium? More on that below.
- Propel has many added vitamins. Vitamin C, E, B3, B5, and B6. Fortified vitamins likely do not help as much as those in whole fruits and vegetables. But I’d still view them as neutral or slightly positive.
- Propel has no artificial colors. Many zero-calorie sports drinks have artificial colors. Since these are controversial for safety, I’d consider it positive that Propel doesn’t have any.
- Propel has several preservatives: Citric acid, potassium sorbate, sodium hexametaphosphate, and calcium disodium EDTA. Some people worry about preservatives, but they’re FDA approved, and these ones don’t seem particularly risky.
Overall, the main cause for concern with Propel is the artificial sweeteners. So let’s cover those in more detail next.
2. What Sweeteners Are In Propel?
Propel is sweetened with sucralose and acesulfame potassium. These artificial sweeteners are generally recognized as safe (GRAS), although there have been some concerning research findings for both. Propel does not contain sugar or aspartame.
Both of the sweeteners in Propel are FDA approved, but there remains some controversy around the long-term health impacts of each.
First, let’s cover sucralose. Sucralose is often sold under the brand name Splenda. Is it safe? Well, I have a separate post all about sucralose—but here are some key points:
- Sucralose seems to be a migraine trigger for some people. (source, source)
- Sucralose may increase insulin resistance through multiple mechanisms. (More on that below.)
- Sucralose seems to cause less weight loss than expected based on calories. So it may not help your weight-loss efforts as much as unsweetened drinks. (More on that below.)
Now, what about acesulfame potassium? This sweetener is often referred to as “acesulfame K” or “Ace-K.” You may see it sold as “Sweet One” or “Sunett.” Here are some concerns people have with it:
- Studies in the 1970s suggested that acesulfame K may cause cancer—but the studies were of low quality. (source)
- A breakdown product of acesulfame potassium, 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)
Overall, the long-term health concerns with artificial sweeteners are just that—concerns. If they were proven to be acutely unsafe, they would not be FDA approved.
So yes, you’re taking some risk with the artificial sweeteners in Propel and other zero-calorie drinks like Powerade Zero. But you may be just fine, especially in moderation.
Erythritol, monk fruit extract, and stevia seem to be three of the healthiest zero-calorie 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 on the science of artificial sweeteners.)
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3. Does Propel Have Sugar or Carbs?
Propel does not contain sugar or carbs. The nutrition label for Propel Electrolyte Water shows 0 grams of total carbohydrates and 0 grams of total sugars. This makes Propel suitable for keto and other low-carb diets.
Instead of sugar or corn syrup, Propel is sweetened with two artificial sweeteners, sucralose and acesulfame potassium.
4. Does Propel Raise Blood Sugar?
I didn’t find any research directly on whether Propel water raises blood sugar. However, Propel has 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 Propel water 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 Propel has any affect for you.
5. Is Propel Water Good for Weight Loss?
One of the reasons people choose zero-calorie drinks like Propel (instead of Gatorade) is to avoid extra calories. But the evidence shows that consuming artificial sweeteners is surprisingly ineffective for weight loss.
You’d expect that switching from sugar to zero-calorie sweeteners would cause significant weight-loss… but in most studies, they cause little to no weight loss.
Here’s one explanation: Artificial sweeteners keep you accustomed to sweet drinks and food. So you still get cravings for sweets, and you end up eating more calories from something else.
So, Propel may not be the best for weight loss. However, the sweeteners in Propel don’t seem to cause weight gain, either. So Propel likely won’t make you gain or lose weight by itself.
The key to weight loss is your overall diet and calorie balance. One food doesn’t make or break your diet. So if your goal is weight loss, 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 Propel water will not make or break your weight-loss journey by itself.
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6. Does Propel Water Have Electrolytes?
Propel Electrolyte Water has 160mg of sodium and 40mg of potassium per 12-oz serving. This is approximately the same amount of electrolytes as in Gatorade.
This means you can get the same amount of electrolytes as Gatorade, but without the sugar of Gatorade. However, you get artificial sweeteners in Propel instead, which some people consider just as bad (or worse) for the reasons covered above.
Now, let’s cover another question about the electrolytes in Propel…
7. Is Propel Water High In Sodium?
Propel Electrolyte Water has 160mg 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 over 9 servings of Propel 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. And this is good, as you need to replenish your body’s salts while sweating.
The American Heart Association’s official recommendation for sodium intake is to stay under 2,300 mg per day. However, 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.)
Compared to stuff like canned soup or frozen TV dinners, Propel is not very high in sodium. It just has a bit. But if you drink it all day, it could definitely add up.
- Is Propel Water High In Potassium? Propel water only has 40mg of potassium per 12-oz serving. This is only about 1% of the potassium an adult should get per day. It is about the same amount of potassium as found in Gatorade.
8. Is Propel Water Caffeine Free?
Propel water 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 have caffeine naturally. Propel water should not keep you awake.
9. Is Propel as Good for You as Water?
If you acutely need rehydration and electrolytes, then Propel may be better than water. But in most other situations, plain water would likely be healthier to drink than Propel.
This is an interesting question. First, it’s worth noting that Propel is mostly water. Propel contains water plus other ingredients. Some of those ingredients are good—others not so much.
The electrolytes and vitamins in Propel come with possible health benefits… But the artificial sweeteners come with possible long-term risks (covered above).
If you need to rehydrate due to prolonged exercise or heat exposure, the benefits of Propel could outweigh the drawbacks. In those situations, drinking too much plain 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 Propel 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 contains none of the extra, unnatural ingredients found in electrolyte drinks like Propel.
10. Is Propel Water Better Than Gatorade?
Propel water has the same electrolytes as Gatorade, without the sugar or artificial colors. For this reason, some people consider Propel healthier than Gatorade. However, Propel has artificial sweeteners, which come with other possible risks. Therefore, it depends on your priorities and concerns.
Personally, I would rather drink Propel than Gatorade from a health perspective. The sugar in Gatorade is just way too much for me personally. I try to avoid big spikes in my blood sugar, due to how it affects my acne.
However, I wouldn’t want to drink a lot of Propel on a regular basis, either. As covered above, it could have a negative effect on my insulin sensitivity and possible cause other problems in the long-term.
Neither Propel nor Gatorade are really healthy, natural drinks. Drinking tap water, coconut water, or unsweetened tea would usually be a healthier choice.
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11. Is Propel Water Better Than Soda?
Propel water is generally considered better than soda, as Propel is free of sugar, calories, and artificial colors. However, Propel still has two artificial sweeteners—sucralose and acesulfame potassium—which make it controversial from a health perspective.
The artificial sweeteners in Propel are commonly used in diet sodas, as well. Compared to diet sodas, Propel still might be a little better because it doesn’t have artificial colors.
Neither Propel nor soda are really healthy, natural drinks. If you’re looking for a healthy alternative to soda, you should try seltzer water. It’s just bubbly water with a subtle natural flavor—no sugar or other sweeteners.
12. Is It Okay To Drink Propel Every Day?
This is really a personal question, based on your risk tolerance and how your body reacts to artificial sweeteners.
Personally, I would not drink Propel water every day. I would be concerned about getting too much of the artificial sweeteners, and how that might affect my insulin sensitivity (as covered above).
That said, some people may be comfortable with the risks of drinking sucralose and acesulfame potassium regularly. Review the evidence (summarized above) and decide for yourself.
For me, I would only drink Propel as an occasional treat.
- Is it safe to drink electrolyte water every day? It is safe to drink electrolyte water daily, as long as the other ingredients are healthy. But unfortunately, most electrolyte drinks have artificial sweeteners or other questionable ingredients, too—not just electrolytes—so they may be best in moderation.
13. Is Propel Vegan?
Propel water is generally considered vegan. It contains no milk, eggs, honey, or other animal byproducts.
The only possible reason I can imagine that someone would say Propel isn’t vegan is due to animal testing. The artificial sweeteners used in Propel have been tested on animals extensively.
In my post about sucralose, I covered some about the 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 Propel today can’t undo the animal testing that was already done. So most vegans are okay with consuming these artificial sweeteners, from an ethical perspective.
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