Organic Gatorade: It's Still Loaded With Sugar, Folks

Sep 1, 2016

Top brass at PepsiCo has talked for months about the introduction of an organic line. And now, according to Bloomberg, the company is rolling out G Organic — yep, an organic version of the famously technicolored sports drink Gatorade. (Think crimson red, electric blue and neon green shades.)

"Gatorade really dominates the [sports drink] market right now," says Beth Bloom, senior food and drink analyst at the market research firm Mintel. Gatorade commands 77 percent of sports drink sales in the U.S.

"I think the [organic line] will broaden the appeal," says Bloom. G Organic will be "one additional offering in their line that may [offer] a little bit of a better health profile."

Bloom says health is definitely a driver in the purchase of organic products: "We're seeing that about half of consumers who purchase organic products do so because they think they're healthier than non-organic products."

But is this new line of organic Gatorade really any better for you?

I put the question to Haemi Choi, a sports medicine doctor at Loyola University Medical Center.

She says some consumers like to see artificial colors and flavors removed from products. "It's more natural," Choi says. "But I don't think it's healthier per se. It's pretty similar," she says.

Take, for instance, the sugar content. Even though Gatorade seems to have switched to an organic cane sugar for its new organic line, Choi says that, nutritionally, this makes little difference. (We asked Gatorade to confirm the ingredient list of the new organic line, but did not hear back in time for press.)

Overall, Choi says the new organic line seems to contain about the same amount of sugar — about 20 grams per 12-ounce bottle.

At a time we're told to cut back on sugar, she notes that many of us are already getting too much in our diet. "The average American consumes about 350 added calories from sugar [each day]."

For instance, women are told to limit consumption to somewhere between 25 and 37 grams of sugar per day, total. "So, drinking a bottle of [sports drink] is already getting you close to what you should get in one day," Choi says.

Choi says unless you're exercising vigorously for an hour or longer and sweating a lot, you don't need to drink any kind of sports drinks — organic or not. If you're out for a casual jog or bike ride, you don't need electrolyte replacement, either.

So, what does Choi recommend for quenching thirst? "I say, drink water," she says.

Lots of dieticians agree. "Sugar is sugar, so no matter if it's organic or not, it's still going to have the same effect on your body," says Lisa Cimperman, a clinical dietician and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

If you consume too much, it may have negative effects on your waistline and can increase blood-sugar levels. And as we've reported, excess sugar is also linked to a higher risk of heart disease.

Cimperman says the new organic label may lead consumers to think organic Gatorade is healthier for them. "I think it's a marketing ploy to apply this organic health halo to this product," Cimperman says.

And that halo will likely cost you more. Bloomberg reports that G Organic will cost about an extra 50 cents per 16.9 ounce bottle, compared to the non-organic options of the same size, such as Gatorade Thirst Quencher.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Gatorade is going organic with some new drinks. For some Americans, organic symbolizes a healthier choice. But is it really better for you? NPR's Allison Aubrey reports.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Americans guzzle billions of dollars of Gatorade each year. And the brand has come to stand for more than just a drink.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Alabama back on top.

AUBREY: Think of all the football championship moments like this Rose Bowl game several years back when players doused their coach in an ice-cold Gatorade bath.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Oh, boy.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yeah, they got him.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Some crimson Gatorade (laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: They did a good job.

AUBREY: Going forward, these Gatorade baths just might be organic.

BETH BLOOM: Yeah, Gatorade announced its first organic product line called G Organic.

AUBREY: That's Beth Bloom, an analyst with the market research firm Mintel. She says Gatorade currently commands more than 70 percent of the sports drink market.

And by going organic and taking artificial ingredients and colors out, she says Gatorade may be trying to appeal to the consumer demand for healthier, natural products.

BLOOM: Yeah, definitely health is a driver in the purchase of organic products. We're seeing that about half of consumers who purchase organic products do so because they think that they are healthier.

AUBREY: But is this new line of organic Gatorade any better for you? I put the question to Haemi Choi. She's a sports medicine doctor at Loyola University Medical Center.

HAEMI CHOI: I guess in the sense that it's more natural, but I don't think it's healthier per se. It's pretty similar.

AUBREY: Take for instance the sugar content. With the new organic line, Choi says, it looks like Gatorade has made a switch.

CHOI: They're also using organic cane sugar instead of the sugar dextrose blends that were in the original Gatorade.

AUBREY: But Choi says nutritionally, this makes little difference. The two sugars have about the same calories and the same effect on the body. Choi says her concern is this. Unless you're exercising vigorously for an hour or longer and sweating a lot, you don't need any kind of sports drinks, organic or not. You don't need electrolyte replacement or all the added sugar if you're just out for a casual jog or bike ride. Besides, Choi says, for most people, there's a better option.

CHOI: I say drink water (laughter).

AUBREY: Lots of dietitians agree. Lisa Cimperman is a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She says the new organic label may lead consumers to think organic Gatorade is healthier for them.

LISA CIMPERMAN: I think it's a marketing ploy to apply this organic health halo to this product.

AUBREY: And that halo will likely cost you more - about an extra 50 cents per bottle. Allison Aubrey, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.