If you’ve been following the keto lifestyle of living, a point is inevitably reached where you become tired of having to limit yourself to the same foods and beverages, day in and day out. This is especially true when it comes to your beverage options, since drinking virtually only water can get boring, and fast.
So what can you do? The good news is that depending on how long it has been since you started the ketogenic diet, your cravings for sugar have proportionately reduced during that time. You are most likely to experience severe cravings for sugar during the first month or so of transitioning into the keto diet, making it important for you to successfully get past this period of struggle-street.
One extremely popular option you might have seen mentioned or heard conversations about is drinking Crystal Light, which many hard-core keto disciples swear by. However, is Crystal Light keto compatible in real life? Read on below where we address the biggest queries you may have and misconceptions about this beverage mix.
What Exactly Is Crystal Light?
Crystal Light is a popular powdered beverage mix to which you are required to add water in order to create tasty, sweet drinks to consume as a better alternative to soda. Even though Crystal Light started out offering only powdered casual beverage mixes, today they also manufacture iced tea varieties and a line geared at athletes for consumption as a low-calorie work out beverage.
The manufacturer, Kraft Foods, has made Crystal Light available in convenient single-serve on the go packets, multi-serve packages, and a model especially suited for use in soda stream carbonated soda making beverage machines.
Depending on where you live, Crystal Light may or may not be available for purchase based on the sweeteners contained within it, which in some countries, require approval.
The goal of Crystal Light is to offer a beverage that is allegedly healthier for your consumption when compared to soda, but which possesses properties of sweetness that is many times stronger than glucose or sucrose.
Why Are People Drawn To Crystal Light?
Well, besides the obvious reason of getting tired of consuming water over and over, Crystal Light appears quite the attractive alternative to consumers given some of its best-selling points, which include:
It Is Very Low-Calorie
When making a purchasing decision of a new supplement or consumable, the first thing most people go to is the nutrition label. And Crystal Light does not disappoint. Classic Crystal Light or single serve on-the-go varieties typically yield 5 calories or less per serving, which in today’s world can be considered as good as zero.
The pure fitness varieties of Crystal Light are slightly more calorie heavy, with each serving yielding about 15 cal. Regardless of this number, you would still be hard-pressed to find sweetened beverages with numbers as low as these.
Low In Sugar
It should go without saying that if something is very low-calorie it probably is very low in sugar/fat as well. When it comes to Crystal Light, this is because of the type of sweeteners used in its formulation. The sugar substitutes are often classified as non-nutritive, owing to the fact that they either yield very low caloric numbers, or cannot be digested and broken down by the body once consumed.
Convenient And Discrete
We all have guilty pleasures, don’t we? If you’re on a rigid nutritional program, you can imagine the frowns you would encounter if you walk around with a bottle of brightly colored and assumedly sugar rich beverage with you. Judgments aside, Crystal Light can help you satisfy cravings when they hit, since they can easily be carried around in convenient single-serve packets. This way, when the urge hits simply add a packet to water and consume. There is no need to measure out servings and subsequently store in plastic packets anymore!
Crystal Light Ingredients
When reading the list of ingredients included in Crystal Light, you are likely to observe differences into what they contain based on the flavor you opt for. Even though they all contain related ingredients, requirements for flavor intensities tend to differ. In some variations you may find one sweetener being used, while in others you may find three. The good news is we’ve compiled the most common ingredients you are likely to encounter in Crystal Light, and what they do in the product.
This is an artificial sweetener that is among the most popular in the world today, having been approved by the FDA in 1976 for use based on its low-calorie nature while simultaneously being exceptionally sweet. Compared on a gram per gram basis, it is 200 times as sweet as table sugar is, meaning that you also require less to sweeten what you are about to consume.
In terms of its overall safety, it is approved by many of the world’s major regulatory health bodies, including the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the FDA, American Dietetic Association and the American Heart Association to name a few.
However, this does not go to say that its safety is undisputed. There have been studies conducted pointing to its role in promoting obesity, toxic side effects via its possible conversion to formaldehyde in the body, and increased risk of cancers.
If your reason for seeking out Crystal Light is primarily from a perspective of overall health, these possible risks may steer you away from flavors containing this sweetener.
Known around the world as Splenda, sucralose is one of the sweetest artificial sugar substitutes, being as much as 322 to 1000 times as sweet as sucrose (table sugar). It is not broken down by the body, and thus, categorized as a non-nutritive sugar substitute. Unlike a few other sugar substitutes, sucralose does not produce a bitter aftertaste, resulting in a cleaner “true” sugar like taste.
However, while it is currently approved for consumption by the FDA in the United States, it is not risk-free, as it affects the important probiotic bacteria residing in your gut extremely hard, reducing colony numbers by more than 50%. What this means is that you are likely to become prone to more infections (these probiotic bacteria form an important part of your immune system), experience an increased frequency of digestive disorders (again, these bacteria help with the breakdown of food material), and can even cause damage to organs such as the liver and kidneys.
Emerging studies have been finding more and more possible risks of sucralose consumption, even though its status still remain safe and accepted by these regulatory bodies.
Often times represented on labels as Acesulfame K, or just Ace-K, this is another artificial sweetener that is about 200 times as sweet as table sugar. It was approved by the FDA for human consumption in 1998, following about two decades of testing.
Even though you might expect it to be thoroughly vetted after all this time, the fact of the matter is that a lot of studies were still not conducted, and for this reason it is generally distrusted by critics. It is potentially carcinogenic (cancer promoting), can kill probiotic cultures living in your gut and may impair development of the young while in the womb. As such, you should avoid products with this sweetener while pregnant.
Truvia is the trademarked brand of a sweetener made by the Coca-Cola Company, obtained from the leaves of the Stevia plant. When Stevia leaves are steeped in hot water a compound known as rebaudioside A is obtained, being 200 to 300 times as sweet as table sugar. Pure rebaudioside A is sweeter than Stevia which possesses a bitter aftertaste, making it seem a better option.
However, the rebaudioside A found in Truvia accounts for only 0.5% of the actual product, the rest being Erythritol, a natural sugar alcohol. Erythritol itself is only about 70% as sweet as table sugar, and is more likely to cause digestive disturbances such as bloating or diarrhea (a property of many sugar alcohols).
That being said, overall Truvia appears to be one of the safest sugar substitutes out there, and is the least artificial based on the fact that it is easily extracted from a plant. Erythritol is also made from corn starch, though it is more heavily processed and oftentimes genetically modified. At low doses Truvia does not appear to have significant adverse effects, besides the digestive issues brought on by erythritol.
Maltodextrin is not a non-nutritive sugar substitute, as it yields the same 4 cal per gram which table sugar also possesses. It also possesses a very high glycemic index, which means that it can adversely affect blood glucose levels.
It is made almost exclusively from genetically modified corn, but also serves as a filler, preservative or binding agent when used for purposes other than as a sweetener. Like sugar alcohols, it can also cause digestive disturbances and adversely affect the health of your gut bacteria. The GMO (genetically modified organism) nature of maltodextrin is also a point of concern to many due to its potential to cause allergies or even worse, unpredictable adverse effects.
In Crystal Light, maltodextrin is not used as the primary sweetener, as there are far more effective options at that job. It serves as a kind of “jack of all trades” and is more often employed as a binding and filler agent.
Crystal Light contains a slew of additional ingredients as well, which are responsible for other aspects of the powder’s formulation beyond the sweet taste it is renowned for. Other additives may include (depending on specific flavor variety):
- Citric Acid – used as a preservative and to take the edge off of sweet flavors. Citric acid gives a characteristic slightly sour to tart-taste which is necessary to improve overall palatability.
- Soy Lecithin – acts as an emulsifier to help oil and water soluble ingredients mix together more readily. Not particularly troublesome, except that it might be genetically modified or raise the amount of plant based estrogens you are exposed to (bad for male hormonal health).
- Artificial Colors Such as Red 40 And Blue 1 – both are made from byproducts of coal or petroleum based products. While accepted in small doses, they still possess sensitizing properties that can trigger asthmatic or immune responses in sensitive individuals. They have also been implicated in possibly increasing risk of certain cancers or disrupting fertility.
Crystal Light Nutritional Facts
Crystal Light comes as close to a calorie free beverage which can replace water as you might expect, even though effects on your body are not as pure (more on that later). A typical Crystal Light nutrition label details the following:
- Calories per serving: between 3 and 15
- Total Carbohydrates: 0 g
- Sugars: 0 g
- Protein: 0 g
- Fats: 0 g
The inquisitive minded amongst you may have noticed that if everything shows 0 g, how come it still possesses calories? This relates to the point we had previously made, where it is permissible to state macronutrient values 0 g, even though products may contain as much as 0.5 g within it. Other minuscule macronutrient values can also bring up total calories per serving, so just bear that in mind.
Are There Carbs In Crystal Light?
Most varieties of Crystal Light contain 0g carbs/sugars as indicated by the nutrition label. While they may seem as a good thing, this is just a superficial assessment as you will find out later in this article, there are ways Crystal Light still affects blood glucose.
Is Crystal Light Bad For You?
At this point after reading you may be asking is Crystal Light bad for you? This is a question that can bring up passionate arguments on both sides of the fence. On one hand, there are those who analyze what is available based literally on what the label says. On the other are “conspiracy theorists”, or highly proficient specialists in fields of nutrition and endocrinology.
First, let’s take the angle of people that analyze nutrition labels. Looking at it, Crystal Light appears as a dream substitute for water. After all, it tastes extremely good, its sweetness comparable to sugar rich beverages, and many government and international regulatory health bodies have approved ingredients in the formulation as safe for consumption.
Thus, a fairly logical assessment to make at this point is that it is fair game for consumption as needed.
On the other hand are the people who do not take nutrition labels only at face value, but instead delve deep into analyzing each individual ingredient, looking for reports of wrongdoings. Specialists in the fields of nutrition and endocrinology also tend to look at how the ingredients affect the body, and usually confirm the fears of skeptics.
So what gives? To appreciate the answer to this, you need to look at it from both perspectives – short-term and over the long term.
Over the short term, there is no doubt in my mind that Crystal Light is extremely okay for consumption. Having an occasional drink will not have adverse effects on your body. However, the game changes completely if you plan to heavily make it a part of your daily routine.
There have been studies, even if only conducted on lab animals, which show potential of the sugar substitutes to significantly affect the health of the gut microbiome, increase the risk of certain cancers, and less often discussed – metabolic dysfunction.
As someone who follows the ketogenic lifestyle, metabolic optimization is one of the core methodologies which makes it excellent. By reducing the body’s reliance on glucose for energy, you are able to elicit changes such as enhancing body composition, improving brain performance and in some cases, recovering lost insulin sensitivity and reversing many of the complications of type II diabetes.
Sugar substitutes have been shown to have a number of adverse effects on metabolism, such as causing stem cells (cells which are able to turn into many different cell types based on needs) to preferentially convert into fat cells as opposed to other types, a scenario that increases the body’s fat storage potential. This is not good, as it means your potential for gaining weight increases as well.
In addition, sugar substitutes, even though they may technically be very low in carbohydrates/sugar, are capable of causing insulin spikes in the blood. Every time insulin is released into blood, the body stops using fat to produce energy, and instead enters a mode of fat preservation and storage. Not to mention the fact that frequent bouts of insulin secretion can make insulin less efficient at its job – a scenario known as insulin resistance or desensitization.
This can be very troublesome to diabetics or pre-diabetics who may in good faith believe that they are making better dietary choices by switching to sugar substitutes, not knowing that they are actually developing insulin resistance.
Summary – Is Crystal Light Keto Compatible
Technically speaking, Crystal Light is keto compatible, as its macronutrient profile may appear to have little influence on you achieving and maintaining state of ketosis. However, unknown to you, it may be at play disrupting your metabolism and hormones, making it that more difficult to actually use fat for fuel.
In addition to this, Crystal Light is loaded with a slew of additional flavor and color agents that scream of artificial, even though they might be classified as natural owing to the fact that the original source was plant-based. This is another major loophole when classifying food additives, since anything that undergoes significant processing should be labeled as artificial.
You also need to seriously consider the possible adverse effects profile for each. There is no guarantee that the adverse will befall you, but keep them in mind.
Aspartame, for example, accounts for the lion’s share of adverse food additive reactions that people experience and report to the FDA. You guessed it, it can be found in Crystal Light. The many other sugar substitutes such as sucralose disrupt your digestive health, promotes systemic inflammation and can end up making you sick – as in cancer sick.
If you’re tired of drinking water all day long, your best bet would be to drink hot or iced tea, possibly sweetened with Stevia which as it turns out is one of the safer and what we can call truly natural sweeteners out there.
You can also try to adapt a cyclical ketogenic diet, also known as CKD, which follows ketogenic diet principles at all times EXCEPT around your work out window. This means that you can strategically have some carbs (sanity preserving sugar too) after you complete your work out, and a smaller but sensible slower digesting carbohydrate with your pre-workout meal.
Crystal Light is keto compatible looking at it from a purely topical perspective, but at the end of it all, it is just not worth the short term sweet gratification when it paves the way for endless health complications down the line.