Is Crystal Light Bad for You? Pros, Cons and FAQs

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Crystal Light is a zero-calorie flavored drink with no sugar, but it has other ingredients you may want to avoid.
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Crystal Light is a brand of beverages that come in a variety of flavors. The drinks have low or no calories and contain zero sugar and fat.

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While it may save you from added sugar, Crystal Light doesn't contain important nutrients. Here, we look at the pros, the cons and available facts concerning Crystal Light and your health.

Ingredients and Nutrition

There are many varieties of Crystal Light, but the basic ingredients are citric acid, potassium citrate, maltodextrin, calcium phosphate and acesulfame potassium. Some varieties of Crystal Light also have small amounts of natural and artificial flavors, soy lecithin and artificial color.

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Here's a brief explanation of each of the main ingredients:

  • Citric acid: A naturally occurring substance used as a preservative and as a sour flavoring agent, according to Chemical Safety Facts.
  • Potassium citrate: A form of the mineral potassium used as a preservative.
  • Acacia Gum: An ingredient used as a thickening and stabilizing agent, per the International Food Additives Council.
  • Potassium sorbate: A preservative, per the USDA.
  • Sucralose: Artificial sweetener
  • Aspartame: Artificial sweetener

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All of these ingredients are approved for use in foods and beverages by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and all are considered GRAS, or generally recognized as safe.

The nutrients in Crystal Light differ based on which type you're drinking. But generally, a 1/2 packet of the beverage contains:

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  • ​​Calories​:​ 5
  • ​Total fat​:​ 0 g
  • ​​Cholesterol​:​ 0 mg
  • ​​Sodium​:​ 35 mg
  • ​​Total carbs​:​ 0 g
    • ​Dietary fiber​:​ 0 g
    • ​Sugar​:​ 0 g
  • ​Protein​:​ 0 g

Is Crystal Light Healthy?

A food or drink can be considered nutritious when it provides nutrients that support your wellbeing. That being said, Crystal Light may not be the most nutritious drink choice — but, if you're using it to replace other calorie- and sugar-rich drinks, it might be a better option for your health.

Crystal Light and Weight Management

For every 8-ounce glass of a Crystal Light drink from the classic line, such as the Classic Orange flavor, you get about 5 calories and no sugar. That makes Crystal Light a good alternative to sodas (such as orange soda) and other beverages high in calories and sugar.

Replacing sodas, juices and other calorie and sugar-laden drinks with Crystal Light could, in this instance, help you lose weight because you're taking in fewer calories.

Crystal Light may also help you stay hydrated. Crystal Light's refreshing flavor can make the process of drinking water a lot more appealing for many people. This can help people manage their weight because thirst is often misconstrued as hunger, according to the Polycystic Kidney Disease Foundation.

With few calories and no sugar, Crystal Light sounds like an ideal option for weight loss, but can its artificial additives make you gain weight? On its own, Crystal Light probably won't make you gain weight, says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, author of ​Finally Full, Finally Slim​ and adjunct professor at NYU.

But many people who drink diet beverages tend to compensate for the "calories saved" with high-calorie food. "Crystal Light is also so sweet that your palate may get used to the super sweetness, causing you to crave sweet foods," Young adds.

Is Crystal Light Safe to Drink, and Does It Have Any Side Effects?

There are two main ingredients in Crystal Light that have sparked controversy: artificial colors and artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose and aspartame. Although the FDA has declared both to be safe, there has been quite a bit of research both for and against these ingredients.

Tip

If you're looking to avoid additives, try Crystal Light Pure, a version of Crystal Light without artificial sweeteners, flavors or preservatives. Crystal Light Pure uses sugar, dried corn syrup and stevia leaf extract instead of aspartame.

Artificial Colors

Crystal Light has a variety of artificial colors in its drink mixes, including yellow 5, red 40 and blue 1.

The FDA states that color additives in food are completely safe. But, the organization also reports that some people may have allergic reactions to color additives such as yellow 5 (also known as tartrazine), which can cause itchiness and hives, although it is rare.

Artificial food dyes have been associated with allergic reactions, behavioral problems in children including attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), neurobehavioral disorders and autoimmune disorders, according to January 2015 research in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine.

An FDA panel concluded that there just isn't enough evidence to show that artificial food dyes cause or add to behavior problems, such as distractability and hyperactivity, in most children, according to Harvard Health Publishing.

The panel did note, though, that some children with ADHD might be sensitive to food colorings and other food additives. It turns out that the additives are not toxic to the nervous system, but that certain children may have an intolerance to them.

The bottom line: More studies and research need to be done on how artificial food dyes affect health.

Artificial Sweeteners

Theoretically, replacing caloric sweeteners with artificial sweeteners can help you take in fewer calories without having to give up sweet foods. But, some experts claim this may not work so perfectly.

Drinking (or eating) artificial sweeteners may make some people think that it gives them more room in their diet for high-calorie foods. This would cancel out any calorie reduction and could lead to a calorie surplus, per Harvard Health Publishing.

The other concern is that artificial sweeteners might alter the way people taste food. The intense sweetness of these ingredients can make naturally sweet foods, like fruit and certain vegetables, taste less sweet in comparison, per Harvard Health Publishing. This can lead you to eat less of these nutritious foods and reach for more nutrient-deficient artificially flavored foods instead.

It's also worth noting that artificial sweeteners have been associated with side effects such as headaches and depressive symptoms, per September 2017 research in the Nutrition Journal.

Does Crystal Light Have Side Effects?

Artificial sweeteners and colors, like those found in Crystal Light, have been linked to allergic reactions or sensitivities, headaches and other symptoms. But because more research on these ingredients needs to be done, it would be a stretch to say that Crystal Light can cause these side effects.

Currently, there are no known side effects of Crystal Light. If anything, you might experience a bit of an aftertaste from the artificial sweeteners.

Special Conditions and Dietary Considerations

Diabetes

Alternative sweeteners such as aspartame don't affect your blood sugar, according to the Mayo Clinic. People with diabetes can have most sugar substitutes, including aspartame, sucralose and stevia.

But sucralose in foods has been linked to reduced insulin sensitivity, per September 2018 research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Still, more research is needed to confirm any sucralose-related side effects.

"Any side effects of sucralose are relatively unknown," says Cheryl Mussatto, RD, LD and author of ​The Nourished Brain.​ "Stevia (found in some Crystal Light products) has been shown to possibly lower blood pressure and lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Used in moderation, no more than 2 cups or 16 ounces a day, it should be fine."

Phenylketonuria

Phenylketonuria is a condition caused by having too much of the amino acid phenylalanine in the body, according to the Mayo Clinic. You get phenylalanine from foods like fish, eggs, meat and dairy products. It also happens to be one of the ingredients in aspartame.

Because people with phenylketonuria aren't able to properly digest phenylalanine, aspartame can be highly toxic for them.

Kidney Disease

"Crystal Light is considered to be an appropriate beverage for those with kidney disease," Mussatto says.

"It's a much better alternative than sodas or other beverages high in calories and sugar. When added to water, Crystal Light can be a great motivator for drinking more fluid. It tastes sweet and provides essential water for keeping the kidneys operating more smoothly throughout the day."

Dyskinesia, Sleep Disorders and Anxiety Conditions

The Mayo Clinic recommends limiting aspartame in your diet if you have:

  • Tardive dyskinesia
  • Sleep disorders
  • Anxiety disorder or other mental health conditions
  • If you take neuroleptics, which are medications that contain levodopa (such as Sinemet or Rytary) or monoamine oxidase inhibitors

Pregnancy

Hydration is important, especially during pregnancy and breastfeeding, according to the Mayo Clinic. Plain water is ideal, but you can have other drinks that contain mostly water, so long as they aren't high in sugar.

Beverages like Crystal Light may fit the bill. They're hydrating, have no sugar and contain very few calories.

While research on the effects of alternative sweeteners on pregnancy remains inconclusive, there have been some studies that raise a red flag. Some evidence suggests a risk for preterm birth, increased infant size and potential for babies to develop a sweet tooth, according to an August 2019 article in Proceedings of the Nutrition Society​.

Keto Diet

Given that Crystal light has no sugar, little to no carbs and doesn't raise blood sugar, it would seem fitting for a keto diet.

People who enjoyed artificial sweeteners, including aspartame and Sucralose, while following a Mediterranean-style keto diet (including olive oil, fish and red wine) saw decreases in blood pressure, total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol after 12 weeks, according to an October 2008 study in Nutrition Journal.

Some people report getting headaches on the keto diet, according to the Mayo Clinic. Because headaches could be a potential side effect of artificial sweeteners, it may not be the best idea to have Crystal Light if you're going keto. But you can try it and see how it affects you.

Fasting

Some people rely on diet sodas and other artificially sweetened drinks to make it through a fast. After all, these drinks have few calories and have very little effect (if any) on blood sugars yet provide good flavor.

A randomized control study suggests that people may not necessarily drink too many beverages to compensate for the lack of food during a fast. Intake of artificially sweetened sodas and caffeinated drinks did not increase during alternate-day fasting in a September 2019 study in Nutrition and Health.

It seems like it's OK to drink Crystal Light on a fast, but more research is necessary to determine the effects of artificial sweeteners on fasting.

Alternatives to Crystal Light

There are plenty of alternatives to Crystal Light that are free from artificial sweeteners, flavors, coloring and preservatives. If you're looking to replace Crystal Light, seek out products that also provide nutrients, such as vitamin C, probiotics and electrolyte minerals.

Some good options include:

  • Kombucha
  • Flavored water
  • Coconut water
  • Sparkling water with a splash of lemon or lime

Tip

You can make homemade flavored water by combining fresh fruits such as raspberries, peaches, lemons, pineapple and oranges and some erythritol simple syrup in a glass or jug and stir. The result: A zero-calorie, sweetened fruit drink with all-natural ingredients.

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