Coca-Cola has agreed to drop a controversial food additive—brominated vegetable oil (BVO)—from its Powerade sports drinks. Although the AP reports that “no details were immediately available on when the change would be complete or how the popular line of sports beverage was reformulated,” the move by Coca-Cola likely came at least partially in response to a powerful petition.
Frustrated to learn that BVO was found in popular sports beverages but banned in Japan and Europe, Sarah Kavanagh, a Mississsippi teenager, posted a petition on Change.org to encourage Coca-Cola to remove BVO from Powerade. Her previous petition asking PepsiCo to remove the ingredient from Gatorade garnered 200,000 supporters and prompted the beverage company to stop using the ingredient. Although Kavanagh’s latest petition has only more than 59,000 supporters, it likely caught Coca-Cola’s attention.
Concerns about the safety of BVO—a flame retardant that keeps flavor oils in suspension and provides citrus-flavored soft drinks with their cloudy appearance—led the Food and Drug Administration to remove it from its list of ingredients “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) in 1970, but it was allowed back into products and in the marketplace on “interim” basis (pending future studies) starting in 1977. The FDA has since mandated that BVO can be used in a beverage as long as the finished product doesn’t contain in excess of 15 parts per million.
But Centers for the Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit consumer advocacy group, warns that BVO is “poorly tested and possibly dangerous.” CSPI cites concerns that ingesting BVO leaves residues in body fat and the fat in several organs including the brain. According to CSPI, animal studies also suggest that BVO can be transferred into mother’s milk, and therefore to nursing infants, and may also cause heart lesions, fatty changes in the liver, and impaired growth and behavioral development.
Some research also suggests that ingesting excess amounts of soft drinks that contain BVO daily can contribute to bromism, a condition characterized by symptoms such as headache, fatigue, ataxia, and memory loss.
According to the AP, while bottles of fruit punch and strawberry lemonade flavored Powerade sold in Detroit, Omaha, New York, and Washington, D.C., no longer list BVO, some bottles continue to include it on ingredients lists. So of you plan to continue to drink fruity sports beverages like Powerade, it’s wise to read the label if you wish to avoid BVO or other additives.
Although people who consume Powerade may be satisfied that it will no longer contain BVO, nutritionally the beverage is the same, and it packs tons of sugar, especially if consumed in large bottles. If you drink sports beverages at times other than after long workouts (at least 60 to 90 minutes), keep in mind that each 12-ounce portion of Powerade fruit punch, for example, packs 80 calories—all from sugar. If you want to stay within the American Heart Association recommendation for added sugar (up to 100 calories daily for women) and have that 12-ounce serving, eating just two large jelly beans will mean you've reached your limit for the day. Just something to keep in mind if you want to cap sugar or total calories. They add up fast!
Elisa Zied, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., is a nationally recognized and award-winning registered dietitian. Author of the new book Younger Next Week (Harlequin Nonfiction, 2014), and three other consumer titles, Zied has garnered millions of media impression as a featured expert on Good Morning America and the Today Show, and in USA Today and dozens of other national print and online publications. She's an advisor and blogger for Parents.com. Follow her @elisazied and on Facebook.