Just because a product has the "O" word doesn't mean it's a health food.
Case in point: Gatorade's new line of organic sports drinks. G Organic is a certified organic version of Gatorade's expertly-marketed sugar water. Yesterday, PepsiCo announced G Organic will be available in Kroger stores this fall.
The product comes in three flavors — lemon, strawberry and mixed berry — and has just seven ingredients, compared to Thirst Quencher's 12.
But surprise! The second ingredient is organic cane sugar, according to a press release. And, as the Mayo Clinic has pointed out, sugar is sugar: The body processes the ingredient in the same way, no matter how it has been manufactured.
The full ingredients list for G Organic: Water, organic cane sugar, citric acid, organic natural flavor, sea salt, sodium citrate and potassium chloride.
So what's really different about this new drink? It cuts out artificial colorings (looking at you, Yellow #5 and Blue #1). And the sugar is certified organic.
Organic sugar is made without synthetic pesticides, Monica Reinagel, registered dietician, noted in her column Nutrition Diva. But nutritionally, "there really is no meaningful difference between any of these kinds of sugar," Reinagel wrote.
Gatorade's organic sugar sip is a play to stay relevant. Organic food industry sales in the U.S. grew 11% from 2014 to 2015 , Ad Age reported. Meanwhile, regular food sales grew just 3%.
G Organic is roughly $0.50 more expensive than Gatorade Thirst Quencher — but it's also close to 50% larger in size. Here's how the two stack up when it comes to nutrition.
"We created G Organic for those athletes looking for an organic hydration and fueling option that is USDA certified, while still providing the proven fueling benefits found in Gatorade Thirst Quencher," Brett O'Brien, Gatorade senior vice president and general manager, said in an email.
The term organic often falls under a health halo. In a very small study from the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, researchers found that people thought organic products had fewer calories and were more nutritious, and the people were willing to pay up to 23% more for them.
G Organic is not a "health" food. It's not an afternoon refresher or after school snack, it's a sports drink meant for athletes.
"Sports drinks are designed to help athletes replace sweat losses and get in a quick digesting source of carbohydrates (i.e. sugar) during prolonged sporting events," Alissa Rumsey, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, registered dietician, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics said in an email. She noted that athletes can also replace sweat losses by having a carbohydrate-rich snack like a banana with salted peanut butter and water. You can also make a DIY sports drink by mixing water, salt and a source of sugar and potassium (like orange juice.)
Not an athlete? The sugar and calories in sports drinks can do real harm, David L. Katz, the founding director of the Yale University Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, previously told Mic.
If you don't sweat a lot when you exercise, you probably don't need to shell out for a sports drinks. The number or quality of ingredients in this beverage doesn't make an organic drink better for you, either.
"Using organic sugar and organic natural flavoring doesn't make [a] drink any better or worse than a regular sports drinks," Rumsey said. "While the ingredient list is slightly shorter, with organic drinks typically removing artificial colors, the drinks are basically the same."
Gatorade would not address this in an email to Mic.
When asked whether non-organic ingredients are harmful, O'Brien said, "all Gatorade products meet FDA requirements and are approved and safe for consumption."