Energy Drink of the Month – June 2017: Guru Organic Energy

So many puns… Does your energy come from an Organic source or is it an innate, inherent, organic burst of energy? If Organic Chemistry is the study of carbon-based molecules and coal is combustible compressed carbon matter, can we call coal “organic energy”? Can we call a beverage Organic if it’s carbon-ated? All puns aside (for now), let’s talk about a carbonated energy drink that is certified-Organic.


The Energy Drink of the Month for June 2017 is Guru Organic Energy.

Guru has other energy drinks to offer, but for this month we’ll focus on the original.  As with any energy drink, we need to discuss the WHO, WHAT, and WHEN:

  • Who is this for? What ingredient phobias and preferences does it cater to?
  • What are the key ingredients and what do they do?
  • When should someone drink this, based on caffeine content and the 5 Levels of Fatigue?

Who It’s For: Ingredient Preferences and Phobias

Guru is certified-Organic, gluten free, non-GMO Project Verified, and artificial free. The drink is sweetened with Organic cane syrup and also Organic white grape juice concentrate. In total, there are 30 grams of sugar.

This is an energy drink without the stereotypical energy drink ingredients that strike fear into the hearts (bad pun, #arrthymia) of those that think all energy drinks are more dangerous than coffee.  Guru Organic Energy does not contain taurine, carnitine, glucuronolactone, or any B-vitamins. It does contain guarana though, but we’ll get to that. Don’t panic.

Did you know the word “Organic” has more regulations around it than the words “energy drink”? You can’t use the word “Organic” on the label unless the product meets specific regulations, and that compliance is confirmed through certification. Of course, these regulations are not without flaw and Organic products are not immune to consumer confusion about the implications of the term.



What’s In It: Key Ingredients and Functions

  • Citric Acid and “Apple Acid”
    “Apple acid” is a synonym for malic acid, but perhaps “malic acid” sounds more chemical-y to some people. The genus for apple is Malus, and malic acid is what gives apples their characteristic tart taste. Both citric and malic acids are organic acids that occur naturally in fruits like lemons and apples. Some sugar-free energy drinks get carried away with the use of citric acid because it can provide a tartness that makes up for a lack of sugar. However, too much citric acid can sting the tongue. That’s not a problem for Guru, fortunately.


Compound Interest Acids
Check out the full article for Common Fruit Acids at Compound Interest


  • Green Tea Leaf Extract
    Green Tea Leaf Extract is the predominant source of caffeine in Guru Organic Energy. In addition to the caffeine, green tea extract also provides health benefits in the form of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). This mouthful of an antioxidant is one of the reasons green tea is the healthiest beverage on the planet (second only to water).
    The catechin and polyphenol content in this beverage are not claimed, so Guru cannot be called an “antioxidant beverage”. Nonetheless, the more green tea you can get in your diet, the better (the same cannot be said for caffeine, however). The benefits of green tea extract are vast — especially in isolated cells, test tubes, and lab rats. Green tea’s benefits for humans are harder to prove but, to quote from this informative and delightful article by our friends at Compound Interest,

“…the combination of L-Theanine and caffeine can improve speed, performance and accuracy in cognitively demanding tasks – put simply, L-Theanine ‘smooths out’ the stimulating effects of caffeine. – Compound Interest, The Chemistry of Tea

  • Guarana Seed Extract
    Guarana has a lot in common with Snape, oops, I meant Professor Snape. When energy drinks first came out, people were afraid of guarana and claimed it was dangerous and devious. Now it’s an ingredient people are proud of and happy to see.
    Way back in the mid-2000s, (before I started this blog, unfortunately) guarana was considered bad because of the additional caffeine it provided. Drinks that had both caffeine and guarana were thought to be the most dangerous of all because of the cumulative caffeine content. Note, this was before energy drink companies started putting “Caffeine from All Sources” on the labels. With the whole food and artificial free movement, guarana became more acceptable and appreciated because it is a natural source of caffeine
  • Panax Ginseng
    Did you know that not all ginseng offers the same health benefits? Panax ginseng, also called Asian or Korean ginseng, is the good kind. Siberian ginseng doesn’t contain any of the characteristic chemical compounds, called ginsenosides, that make ginseng “Ginseng”. When harvested, ginseng can be dried and bleached to become white ginseng, or steamed and air dried to become red ginseng.
    If you were a lab rat, ginseng might improve memory. With humans, the data is less convincing. Ginseng allegedly helps reduce stress but that’s only when it’s sipped warm or when the root is chewed. How convenient that the act of holding a warm object is also attributed to stress reduction. So is the act of mastication. Suffice to say I’m not sold on the power of ginseng…but it either doesn’t help you or it does. Nothing suggests it’s going to hurt you, especially in the amounts found in energy drinks.


Source: Caffeine Informer


When To Consume: Caffeine Content and the 5 Levels of Fatigue

This product contains 142 milligrams of caffeine from the green tea extract and the guarana seed extract combined. As a reminder, people under 18 should have no more than 100 milligrams of caffeine a day, and healthy non-pregnant adults should have no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day.

This may be an Energy Drink in Disguise, but it has almost as much caffeine as a Monster Energy (Guru: 142 milligrams, Monster, most flavors, 160 milligrams). That makes this FATIGUE LEVEL 3! This is not a drink you want to drink every day because you want to save the stronger caffeinated beverages for when you are more than just dehydrated or a little tired.

We talked about Fatigue Level 3 during the 10 Day Caffeine Challenge. Here’s a refresher about why this level is special:

Bottom Line

Guru Organic Energy is a great alternative to stronger caffeinated beverages like Monster Energy. With 142 milligrams of caffeine, this is not something you want to consume every day. However, with its artificial free, certified-Organic, Non-GMO, gluten free ingredients, this is a beverage you can be proud to drink.




Let’s connect!

Energy Drink of the Month – May 2017: Zevia Zero Calorie Energy

Sometimes we just want life to be simple. In high school, life was not simple, but at least my schedule was predictable. Each hour was dedicated to a specific subject; a chiming bell was enough to break my To Do list into neat little blocks of time. With graduation season upon us, many will leave their predictable schedules and somewhat-organized world for the unpredictable chaos that comes with adulthood. As a tribute to that unavoidable complexity, this month we review (yet another) energy drink with clean, simple ingredients. If you’re familiar with my mission on, you know I love nothing more than busting the energy drink stereotype.

This month’s pick is another “energy drink in disguise” that doesn’t fit the water, juice, tea, or soda category. With 120 milligrams of caffeine per can, it’s undeniably an energy drink but also undoubtedly not “a deadly concoction of caffeine and sugar”.  

The Energy Drink of the Month for May 2017 is Zevia Zero Calorie Energy.  

Zevia’s new energy drink line

At the time of this post, there were four flavors available: Grapefruit, Kola, Mango/Ginger, and Raspberry/Lime. They all have 120 milligrams of caffeine per can, zero Calories, zero grams of sugar, zero vitamins, zero preservatives (not counting the acids), and nearly identical ingredient lists. As you might’ve guessed from our other Energy Drink of the Month winners, I’m a berry person, so my favorite is Raspberry/Lime.

Zevia energy facts panels

Key Ingredients 

Carbonated Water

We’ve talked about carbonation many times before, so here’s some refreshing (pun!) insight from Popular Science’s article on why humans like fizzy drinks

“Chemically, adding CO2 to water creates carbonic acid, which is tasted by sour-sensing taste cells. Research has suggested that a certain enzyme, carbonic anhydrase, sits on those cells and reacts with the acid to cause carbonated water’s familiar popping sensation. (Fun fact: climbers who take altitude-sickness drugs that block the enzyme, then drink champagne, report the bubbly as having a dishwater-y taste.”

Citric Acid and Tartaric Acid

The Kola flavored Zevia Zero Calorie Energy has tartaric acid and citric acid, whereas the other three just have citric acid. This excellent infographic from our friends at Compound Interest explains the science behind these two popular acids.


Compound Interest Acids


Stevia Leaf Extract

Finding a high-quality stevia extract is no simple task. Oh sure, we know what molecule is responsible for the sweetness, but isolating that molecule and delivering it is far more complicated than producing table sugar. Sugar is sugar is sugar, right? But water doesn’t always taste the same, even if it’s just water. The same goes for Stevia. In fact, tasting Stevia samples was one of the tasks I dreaded most while I worked as a product developer for a major supplement company. One bad sample, and you’d be experiencing a bitter metallic aftertaste the rest of the day (or week: See “A Food Science Horror Story”).

It turns out that some people are Stevia Super Tasters so they will get a bitter metallic aftertaste with Stevia when many others would taste only sweetness. This bitter metallic aftertaste is why stevia is often paired with another natural sweetener, erythritol.

Caffeine Comparison 

The top three best-selling energy drink brands are Red Bull (80 mg caffeine per 8 oz can; 114 mg caffeine per 12 oz can), Monster Energy (160 mg caffeine per 16 oz can), and Rockstar Energy (240 mg caffeine per can, most flavors). Since Zevia Zero Calorie Energy is an “energy drink in disguise” that breaks the energy drink stereotype, it makes more sense to compare its caffeine content to similar products, other healthy alternatives.  Below are the caffeine contents listed in the Caffeine Informer database:

When to Consume = Fatigue Level 3 

When it comes to caffeine content, 200 and 400 are special numbers. Quoting from the “Scientific Opinion on the safety of caffeine” from the European Food Safety Authority:

“Following a request from the European Commission, the EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies was asked to deliver a scientific opinion on the safety of caffeine, providing advice on caffeine intakes, from all dietary sources that do not give rise to concerns about adverse health effects for the general healthy population and subgroups thereof. Possible interactions between caffeine and other constituents of so-called “energy drinks”, alcohol, p-synephrine and physical exercise should also be addressed. Single doses of caffeine up to 200 mg (about 3 mg/kg bw for a 70-kg adult) do not give rise to safety concerns. The same amount does not give rise to safety concerns when consumed < 2 hours prior to intense physical exercise under normal environmental conditions. … Habitual caffeine consumption up to 400 mg per day does not give rise to safety concerns for non-pregnant adults…” 

The 5 Levels of Fatigue is a system I developed during my years of researching energy drinks. The 5 Levels of Fatigue helps people find the product most appropriate for how tired they are, thus minimizing caffeine dependence, toxicity, and tolerance. Anything with more than 200 milligrams caffeine should be saved for more dire energy emergencies like Fatigue Level 4. A product with 100-200 mg caffeine belongs with Fatigue Level 3. Since this product has 125 milligrams of caffeine per can, this product fits Fatigue Level 3. It is a carbonated product, which usually means the caffeine would feel stronger than a non-carbonated equivalent like the caffeinated (still) water from Avitae due to carbonation’s effects on the stomach.

Bottom Line 

If you are looking for a strong, sugar-free, artificial-free carbonated energy drink Zevia is a great option. You don’t have to fret about “the dangerous of energy drinks” with this product. Zevia Zero Calorie Energy is simple. Life is complex enough.



Let’s connect!

Energy Drink of the Month – December 2016: Core Organic

How do you describe a beverage that is a hybrid of juice, water, and tea? This month we’ll review a beverage that aims to give you the health benefits of tea, the hydration of water, and the flavor of fruit juice. While the caffeine content is negligible, there is tea in it, and Fatigue Level 1 is dehydration! We’ll review WHO IT’S FOR (per diet/lifestyle and ingredient preferences), WHAT’S IN IT (key ingredients), and WHEN TO CONSUME IT (per caffeine content and the 5 Levels of Fatigue).

*Spoiler Alert* I’ve got three minor Food Scientist pet peeves with this beverage, and I would love to hear your thoughts on these observations.

The Energy Drink (alternative) of the Month is Core Organic Pomegranate Blue Acai.

Other flavors available include Peach Mango, Watermelon Lemonade, Orange Clementine, Coconut Colada, and Orchard Pear. If you’re familiar with my Energy Drink of the Month series, you know I almost always pick the pomegranate blueberry flavors.


This Core Organic “fruit infused beverage” is certified Organic, non-GMO, gluten-free, low glycemic, and Vegan.


  • PET PEEVE #1: Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.
    • Why would any of those be in a fruit-infused beverage? Does anyone else feel like Core Organic is trying to win consumers by tapping into that fad?

This beverage could appeal to you if:

  1. You are limiting your sugar intake and your “liquid calories” – This drink has less than 1 gram of sugar per serving and only 5 Calories per serving (10 Calories per bottle)
  2. You are avoiding artificial sweeteners – This drink is sweetened with Stevia and Organic erythritol (we’ll review this below)
  3. You are avoiding artificial colors and/or flavors – The color comes from Organic vegetable juice and fruit juice, and the flavor comes from a combination of natural flavors
  4. You are not really a tea drinker but still want the benefits of drinking tea – This drink has 75 milligrams of polyphenol antioxidants, which is “the antioxidants of half a cup of blueberries or cherries” according to the press release in BevNET



Fruit Juice

  • PET PEEVE #2: This is a “fruit infused” beverage but the fruit juice doesn’t play a very big role. 

There’s only 4% juice per serving. The FDA does consider coconut water a juice, but since it’s behind erythritol in the ingredient’s list, we know there’s more erythritol than coconut water in this drink.

The Organic lemon juice is behind the Stevia extract, which is very telling! Since Stevia is something you can’t use in large amounts, there can’t be more than one lemon’s worth of lemon juice in here. Since the lemon juice comes before citric acid, it seems both the lemon juice and the citric acid are in this drink to control acidity. If you want to keep mold out of your fruit juices, you have to either control the acidity or use preservatives.

The last two fruit juices are the last two ingredients in the list, meaning they’re the smallest portions of the recipe. There’s fruit juice used for color, and Maqui berry juice powder used to deliver antioxidants.

5-in-1 weight loss supplement combo IS effective, but thanks to WHICH combo?

White Tea, Maqui Berry, and Polyphenol Antioxidants

The good news is consumption of polyphenol antioxidants is associated with improved cardiovascular health and reduced risk of cancer. Consumption of green and white tea is associated with lower risk of cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. The bad news is white tea is such a small portion of this recipe, and Maqui berry is literally the last/most sparse ingredient!

Maqui berry is a “Chilean blackberry”, according to a paper in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. It might have a lot of antioxidants in nature but one paper suggests the juice making process results in a “substantial loss” of the polyphenol antioxidants in Maqui. If you can figure out how to minimize these losses, there are some encouraging (but still uncertain) health benefits. A group of antioxidants called “anthocyanins” extracted from Maqui berry improved fasting blood sugar levels in (wait for it) obese diabetic mice.

“Animal research can be useful, and can predict effects also seen in humans. However, observed effects can also differ, so subsequent human trials are required before a particular effect can be said to be seen in humans. Tests on isolated cells can also produce different results to those in the body.” – see the Compound Interest infographic on Scientific Evidence


Erythritol is one of my favorite sweeteners, and we’ve talked about it before in other reviews. Erythritol makes Stevia better when they’re combined. Some people get a bitter-metallic sensation with Stevia extract, but erythritol masks the unfavorable attributes of Stevia. Erythritol is 60-70% as sweet as sucrose and has a very similar taste. It does not raise blood glucose levels and it delivers a cooling effect. While it’s non-caloric like Stevia, it has a molecular size that gives it more mouthfeel. Think fruit juice versus fruit smoothie: the fruit smoothie has a heavier “mouthfeel”.

Erythritol occurs naturally, like monk fruit and Stevia. It’s made through natural fermentation. It’s a sugar-alcohol, like the Xylitol often used in sugar-free gum. With xylitol, however, too much of it can really upset a person’s stomach. With erythritol, a person could consume twice as much – at least 0.66 grams per kilogram of body weight – before they started getting same stomach issues. Additionally, erythritol has been proven through clinical studies to reduce plaque build-up.

Core Organic beverage nutrition facts ingredients caffeine content
Caffeine content is “about the same as a cup of decaf coffee”, so does that mean 45mg? There is no standard for this!


  • PET PEEVE #3: There is no such thing as a standard cup of coffee or cup of tea.
    • It’s not clear how much caffeine is in this product, but we should assume the content is negligible. The white tea is the only source of caffeine, and white tea is not a very prominent ingredient.

Core Organic is not promoting itself as a drink that would give you energy, but since it includes white tea extract, I wish they could include some caffeine information on the label.

Dehydration is Fatigue Level 1, so picking a beverage with negligible caffeine content is a great way to ensure you don’t reach for the caffeine too soon. If you always reach for the same caffeinated beverage, and if caffeine is always your first solution when you’re tired, there will come a day when the caffeine no longer works for you. This is precisely why I developed the 5 Levels of Fatigue!

Bottom Line

This water/juice/tea hybrid is not marketed as an energy drink, but it’s a good solution (pun intended) for beating the fatigue that comes with dehydration. While you will not get the full benefits of drinking plain tea, you still get the benefits of the 75 milligrams of polyphenol antioxidants per serving.

Core Organic main site




Panera Know-No List — Part V: Meet the Texture Modifiers

Soggy spinach, crunchy chips, moist bread – texture is as important as flavor in consumer acceptance. For the fifth and final part of the Panera KNOW-No project, we review the food science of the texture modifiers on the No-No List.

In May 2015, Panera published a list of ingredients that would be removed from their food. Several other companies have made similar commitments to simplify their ingredients, but it’s rare these announcements address why the ingredient was in the food in the first place. This is a missed opportunity to celebrate the food science. Thus, this was my inspiration for this project. For each ingredient, you’ll find a brief explanation of its purpose, safety concerns if any, and whether a natural counterpart can perform as well or better. [For Part I, Overall Response, Part II, Sweeteners, Part III, Color/Flavor Enhancers, and Part IV, Preservatives, see previous posts].

Part V of V – Texture Modifiers (and remaining miscellaneous ingredients)

[The official Panera No No List is available here; replicated below.] Ingredients discussed in this post are red. Read more

Panera Know-No List — Part III: Meet the Color/Flavor Enhancers

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a food company making a commitment to a clean label, as long as there’s some effort to explain the WHY. WHY is Ingredient X coming out? WHY was it in there in the first place? WHY do people prefer Ingredient X to Ingredient X-prime?

In this post, we continue deconstructing Panera’s No No list. [For Part I, Overall Response, and Part II, Sweeteners, see previous posts]. For each ingredient, you’ll find a brief explanation of its purpose, safety concerns if any, and whether a natural counterpart can perform as well or better.

Part III of V – Colors and Flavor Enhancers

*These ingredient assessments below are part of a collaborative effort, and I thank all who have helped me compile this information. See “FOR MORE INFO” for resources. Contact me on Twitter @GreenEyedGuide for the opportunity to join them in completing and improving this project.

[The official Panera No No List is available here; replicated below.] Ingredients discussed in this post are red.



Artificial Colors (Synthetic and Certified FD&C); Azo Dyes, FD&C Colors (NOTE- multiple separate entries on the list, combined for convenience)

  • NAMING CLARIFICATION:FDA classifies colour additives as either “certified” or “exempt from certification.” The former is also referred to as artificial or synthetic; and the latter, by default, is often characterized as “natural.” However, in the United States, federal regulations prevent any colour additive from legally being called natural. FDA also does not consider any colour added to a food product to be natural. [emphasis added, – Read the rest at “Appearance Matters”, excerpt from Food Product Design]
  • PURPOSE: Offset color loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, moisture and storage conditions; correct natural variations in color; enhance colors that occur naturally; provide color to colorless and “fun” foods – From Food Insight, Food Ingredients and Colors;
  • BENEFIT OVER NATURAL COUNTER-PART: In short, stability. “For example, DDW’s Ondracek notes some anthocyanins — the source of the red, blue and purple colors in plums, purple cabbage, cherries and blueberries — are prone to browning and fading and are affected by the pH of certain formulations. Turmeric, a root used for yellow coloring, is light sensitive, and both beta-carotene and annatto can be prone to oxygen degradation. … In addition, flavor compounds extracted with the color from radishes and red cabbage can impart a strong odor when used in large amounts in a formulation. – From “Should Your Products Go Natural?”
  • SAFETY NOTES: The list of color additives the FDA does and does not permit can be found here (FDA); The CSPI puts color additives in the “Avoid” category, and this is a valid opinion, but it is not a sentiment shared other groups in the industry. The International Food Information Council, the Institute of Food Technologists, the FDA, and the European Food Safety Authority take more precautionary positions and indicate there is no conclusive link between color additives and hyperactivity. (Source: Food Insight link above and links in “For More Info”, below)
  • FOR MORE INFO: IFIC “Hot Topic: Food Colors”; Food Business News “Naturally Vibrant Colors”; IFTColoring Foods and Beverages

.Artificial Flavors

  • PURPOSE: To deliver the sensory impression of a food or beverage product; note the official definition for NATURAL FLAVOR, according to the US Code of Federal Regulations:

Natural flavors in the United States are defined in 21 CFR 101.22, as “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.” – From “Natural Flavors Hit the Label”, by Donna Berry, in Food Product Design

  • BENEFIT OVER NATURAL COUNTER-PART: In short, artificial flavors usually last longer and cost less, depending on the need for natural resources. In “What is the difference between artificial and natural flavors?”, Dr Gary Reineccius, a professor in the department of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota, answers the article’s title question in a wonderfully detailed (but not jargon-heavy) article.
  • SAFETY NOTES: Safety depends wildly on the amount of the flavor used, for everything is a “toxin” at the wrong dose; specific artificial flavors have brought more concern than others, see “Smoke Flavor, Artificial”, “Diacetyl” and “Vanillin” sections below
  • FOR MORE INFO: American Chemical Society on Artificial and Natural Flavors ; “Natural Flavors Hit the Label”, by Donna Berry, in Food Product Design

Astaxanthin and Canthaxanthin (NOTE- two separate entries on the list, combined for convenience)

  • PURPOSE: Astaxanthin is a carotenoid pigment in salmon, from beta-carotene in algae the fish eats; Canthaxanthin is the synthetic version of that, sometimes called “nature-identical”. Astaxanthin and its natural counterpart are popular for their antioxidant potential.
  • SAFETY NOTES:  In fact this rise in popular demand is responsible for the growing concern of economic adulteration (reported here by Nutritional Outlook). The amounts of astaxanthin and canthaxanthin commonly consumed are too low to cause safety concerns.
  • FOR MORE INFO: Astaxanthin Fact Sheet, by DSM

Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Disodium Guanylate, Disodium Inosinate, Hydrolyzed Soy or Corn Protein, Monosodium Glutamate/Sodium Glutamate (multiple entries on the list; all sources of Umami)

  • PURPOSE: Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) delivers a savory note called “Umami”; Glutamate, the amino acid, has been identified as the source of the umami flavor, and hydrolyzed proteins and autolyzed yeast extract are natural sources of glutamate
  • SAFETY NOTES: A very small portion of the population may be sensitive to MSG but the data is very inconsistent. Multiple countries and organizations have weighed in on the safety of MSG (see image below)
Food Insight

Benzyl Alcohol/Benzoyl Peroxide, Calcium Peroxide

  • PURPOSE: Used as bleaching agents to help deliver consistent color, commonly used for cheese and flour
  • SAFETY NOTES: The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) reviewed the use of BP as a bleaching agent in flour and concluded that treatment at concentrations up to 40 mg/kg was acceptable (WHO, 1964). – From JECFA Benzoyl Peroxide Chemical and Technical Assessment”; Benzoyl Peroxide and Calcium Peroxide are on Health Canada’s List of Permitted Bleaching, Maturing or Dough Conditioning Agents. China banned the use of benzoyl peroxide and calcium peroxide in 2011, but the Chinese Ministry of Health banned them because they weren’t needed anymore and due to response to public requests for natural food and the intake of fewer chemical materials. From China Daily
  • FOR MORE INFO: How and why is flour bleached? by Eating Real Food

Caramel Color (Classes II – IV)

  • PURPOSE: All four classes of caramel are produced through heat treatment of sugar. All four classes are considered safe by the FDA but each class has different behaviors and chemical characteristics that make it more or less suitable for certain applications. For example, a different class of caramel is better suited for the tannins in iced tea than the class that works best in certain chocolate milk products.
  • SAFETY NOTES: A variety of respected organizations have stood by the safety of caramel color, including the European Food Safety Authority, the FDA, the IFT, the British Soft Drink Association and the American Beverage Association – DDW, “The Truth About Caramel Colour
  • FOR MORE INFO: Food Business News, “Beverage Ingredients in the Spotlight


  • PURPOSE: Leading natural replacement for FD&C Red 40; Natural coloring that provides a characteristic pink, red or purple hue while demonstrating excellent heat and light stability, extracted as carminic acid from the female cochineal insect, a cactus-dwelling insect native to Mexico and South America. – From DDW
  • BENEFIT OVER NATURAL-COUNTERPART: Carmine/cochineal is natural in that it is extracted instead of synthesized outright. Carmine/cochineal replacements like lycopene (from tomatoes) or betalains (from beets) may not be as vibrant or as stable over shelf-life. Some procyanidins (from berries) change hue when the acidity level (pH) changes so it may be hard to get a consistent color depending on the food. Donna Berry’s article, “Clean-Label Coloring For Dairy Foods” addresses the pros and cons of carmine, why red-coloring is so difficult, and some of the carmine/cochineal alternatives available.
  • SAFETY NOTES: Some people may have an allergic reaction to carmine/cochineal; Vegans, Vegetarians, and others who do not wish to consume products from insects for religious reasons should scan ingredient lists for the words “Cochineal,” “Cochineal Extract,” “Carmine,” “Crimson Lake,” “Natural Red 4,” “C.I. 75470,” or “E120,”
  • FOR MORE INFO: “What is carmine and why is Starbucks taking it out of its products?” from Mother Nature Network;


  • PURPOSE: Imparts butter aroma; naturally forms in cultured butter from bacteria that produce acid and aroma compounds during fermentation
  • SAFETY NOTES: There are some inhalation risks to the people who work in factories where diacetyl/acetoin and related compounds are made, but the same can be said for the workers in factories that make digestive enzymes; OSHA has guidelines on proper handling for these employees, but the average consumer does not face a safety risk
  • FOR MORE INFO: IFIC Food Insight “Questions and Answers about Diacetyl”

Dipotassium Sulfate

  • PURPOSE: Also known as Potassium Sulfate; Salt substitute in beer and low sodium product; Used in imitation creamers, dry powder beverages, mineral supplements (source of potassium), Can also be used for texture/flow benefits because it works to prevent coagulation and caking
  • SAFETY NOTES: The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that the proposed use and use levels of potassium sulphate in food supplements as a source of potassium and sodium is not of safety concern.
  • FOR MORE INFO: See Noshly‘s excellent overview of uses, approvals and bans from different countries, and diet considerations

Esters of Fatty Acids

  • PURPOSE: Acid-alcohol combinations that provide milk products with their fundamental aromas and fruity notes; From Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, “Many fruits owe their characteristic aroma to chemicals called esters…A single fruit will emit many esters, but one or two account for most of its characteristic aroma.”

Harold McGee On Food and Cooking

Fatty Acid Methyl Esters do not deserve classification as carcinogens and the available evidence supports the safety of these materials. Our diligent search has failed to locate any peer-reviewed research or publication which would provide a basis for classifying these materials as tumorigenic. In addition we know of no authoritative body that has so classified these materials.

  • FOR MORE INFO: See any of the links above. On Food and Cooking is a great addition to any food-lover’s library!



  • PURPOSE: stabilizes the desirable red hue in meats like hot dogs and bacon; also inhibits bacterial toxins like the ones that cause botulism; common preservative in bacon, ham, hot dogs, lunch meats, corned beef, smoked fish, other processed meats
  • BENEFIT OVER NATURAL: Natural sources of nitrates, like celery powder, may be used instead; Freezing and refrigerating cured meats also prevents the growth of the botulism toxins, but freezing doesn’t kill the spores that make these toxins, it just inactivates them (like a child in Freeze Tag).
  • SAFETY NOTES: People are all over the map on this one, and a straight up-or-down answer of Safe or Not is complicated by the fact that nitrates are found in vegetables and hot dogs (among other places). Can we all agree that a diet rich in veggies is good, and a diet rich in hot dogs is not-so-good? Nitrate is not harmful but it can be converted to nitrite by bacteria in food and in body. Nitrites can form cancer-causing nitrosamines in stomach or in frying food at high temperatures. As such, the CSPI puts them in the “Avoid” category for precaution, and the IFIC emphasizes their necessity to control the much larger threat of Botulism. Eighty to 90 percent of the nitrate most people consume comes from vegetables, but this is unlikely to cause health problems because very little of the nitrate in vegetables is converted to nitrite. From Cornell University, “Nitrate: Health Effects in Drinking Water
  • FOR MORE INFO: This article on Don’t Waste the Crumbs is remarkable with its perspective, honesty, level of information, and humor!

Smoke Flavor (Artificial)

  • PURPOSE: Mimics the smokey, charred flavor of food that’s been treated with smoke from burning wood
  • SAFETY NOTES: The concern here is with Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are chemicals formed when muscle meat, including beef, pork, fish, or poultry, is cooked using high-temperature methods, such as pan frying or grilling directly over an open flame. Foods directly exposed to actual smoke have more HCAs and PAHs than products with smoke flavor, or liquid smoke.
  • FOR MORE INFO: NIH National Cancer Institute article, “Chemicals in Meat Cooked at High Temperatures and Cancer Risk” and Fooducate’s article, “Is Smoke Flavoring Safe?”

Titanium Dioxide


  • PURPOSE: Volatile plant compound in Pheonolic family; can be natural or artificial
  • BENEFIT OVER NATURAL: In my experience, the most challenging part about finding a Vanilla flavor is that there are almost too many options (Do you want creamy, buttery, light, white-chocolatey…) , But powdered Vanillin, specifically, can be wicked-expensive compared to artificial Vanillin. The article here by Chemical and Engingeering News covers the many routes to naturally derived Vanillin (…now about that Beavers source…make sure you also read the “For More Info” links)
  • SAFETY NOTES: See Artificial Flavors, above; and the two links below
  • FOR MORE INFO:  Now, about the beaver extract “Does Beaver Tush Flavor Your Strawberry Shortcake?” answered by both NPR’s The Salt; and also by Snopes.



Companies should not be criticized for making clean-label commitments like this. However, consumers would benefit much more from moves like this if the companies are more transparent about WHY each ingredient is coming out, and what that ingredient was doing in the food in the first place. If you believe in this type of transparency, this type of consumer awareness, help me share this information.


Here & NowDoes Removing Artificial Ingredients Mean Healthier Food?

John Coupland, a professor of food science at Penn State University, talks with Here & Now’s Meghna Chakrabarti about what these additives are, and why more and more companies have been making moves to eliminate them in foods.

Science Meets FoodRenouncing Pronounce-ability

It’s important to ask questions about your food, but that doesn’t mean you should be afraid of it.

Response Part I to Panera’s No-No List

Panera KNOW-No List Part II – Meet the Sweeteners