Worst Food of the Week: Sunny D

Sunny D(on't)SUNNY D JUST WENT GREEN. And while it is impressive that Sunny D ‘s six manufacturing plants in the U.S. and Spain went to zero waste this year – beating the company goal by three years – this faux juice still rates as a Worst Food.

Strike 1: Misleading marketing

To start with, if a food’s marketing campaign is “Buy this and your kids will think you’re cool,” avoid it at all costs. Seriously.  We don’t need our kids to think we’re cool; we need them to be healthy. Because we’re parents and we all know our kids aren’t going to think we’re cool, no matter what food we buy.

But the bigger marketing issue is that Sunny D wants us to think it’s a real juice, a replacement for, say, orange juice. But, as you’ll see below, juice is in Sunny D the same way vermouth is in an extra dry martini. (That’s barely at all, in case you’re not a martini drinker.)

Strike 2: Sunny D is mainly sugar water

So the marketing campaign is a huge red flag, but what is Sunny D, anyway? According to the Sunny D web site, it’s a “fruit-flavored beverage,” which sounds about right. Although I might call it “artificially fruit-flavored sugar water.”

The main ingredients in Sunny D are water and high fructose corn syrup.

Less than 2% is concentrated juices (orange, tangerine, apple, lime, grapefruit), citric acid, ascorbic acid (vitamin C), thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), natural flavors, modified food starch, canola oil, sodium citrate, cellulose gum, xanthan gum, sodium hexametaphosphate, sodium benzoate, yellow 5, and yellow 6.

To be clear:

  • 98% is water and HFCS
  • 2% is all that other stuff

An 8 ounce serving of Sunny D contains 27g of sugar, and that sugar is from the HFCS, not fruit juice. It’s about the same sugar content as 8 ounces of soda. It also contains 190 mg of sodium, which is more than 5 times the sodium in the same amount of Coke. Yikes.

Strike 3: Other additives

The inclusion of natural flavors is a sure sign that the flavor of this drink isn’t coming from those miniscule amounts of juice. Sunny D also contains corn starch and canola oil. In a drink? Who needs to be drinking that stuff?

Sodium benzoate is a potentially toxic additive and yellow dyes have also been linked to health issues.

The bottom line:

Three strikes and you’re out, Sunny D. This beverage may be cheap (about $.03/ounce), but it’s definitely not a healthy drink for everyday consumption or, quite frankly, for consumption at all.

3 comments for “Worst Food of the Week: Sunny D

  1. Corey
    August 26, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Sodium Benzoate is a preservative used to help prevent yeast/mold growth and microbiological growth after you open the package. It is used in many beverages. I would consider it safe. The corn starch and canola oil are to provide an appropriate texture and mouthfeel to the product that was not inherently there, ingredients that are also safe.

    Graduated with degree in Food Science

  2. cat
    August 26, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    Thanks for the comments, Corey.

    Sodium benzoate when combined with ascorbic acid can form benzene, a known carcinogen. Also, Professor Peter Piper of Sheffield University found that sodium benzoate damaged the mitochondria in the DNA of living yeast cells. While I get that we aren’t yeast, I’m not as confident as you about the safety of this additive.

    Corn starch and canola oil aren’t toxic, but I think healthier drink options are the ones that don’t require oil and cornstarch to create a “mouthfeel.”

  3. Jenna
    April 3, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Don’t for get it also contains a moderate hazardous ingredient. That they use for protection of beauty products deterioration. Sodium Hexametaphosphate. That’s ridiculous.

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