Mixing up healthier holiday cocktails

Holiday party season is upon us, which means savory appetizers, festive desserts and seasonal cocktails and mocktails. 

But before you crack open that bottle of margarita mix or pre-made piña colada, you may want to check its ingredients to ensure you’re not unknowingly pouring potentially harmful food additives into your glass.

Artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are frequently found in pre-made cocktail mixers. And though they may be appealing as a lower calorie replacement for sugar, they could come with unwanted side effects. 

Few non-sugar sweeteners have ever been reviewed for safety by the Food and Drug Administration. And most of those that have been reviewed by the FDA were assessed decades ago.

In March, the World Health Organization found that long-term use of artificial sweeteners may increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke and hypertension.

Sucralose, a common sweetener found in cocktail mixes such as Great Value Cocktail Mixer, Peach Bellini and Cascade Ice Sparkling Cocktail Mixer, Pina Colada, has been connected to damaging changes to the gut microbiome

Two other common sweeteners, aspartame and acesulfame potassium, have been linked to an increased cancer risk. Aspartame can be found in mixers like Margaritaville Low Calorie Drink Mix, Strawberry Daiquiri. Acesulfame potassium is in products like Cascade Ice Diet Tonic Water Shinny Cocktails and Great Value Cocktail Mixer Rose Wine Drink Enhancer, Rosé Wine.

Sucralose, aspartame and acesulfame potassium have all been linked to cardiovascular disease.

Non-sugar sweeteners may also harm the nervous system. Since sugar substitutes, particularly artificial sweeteners, can be hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, despite containing fewer calories, they can cause taste receptors to signal the brain to expect a large influx of calories. The result is the body may experience confusion and stronger sugar cravings, creating a vicious cycle that can lead a person to consume even more sweetener. 

Synthetic dyes

Many cocktail mixers use synthetic dyes to achieve their festive colors.

Synthetic dyes like Red Dye No. 40, which is found in Bacardi Strawberry Daiquiri Non Alcoholic Frozen Mixer, Frankford Tequila Sunrise and Jero Old Fashioned Cocktail Mix, have been linked to an array of health harms. We already know these dyes can harm children in products they consume: increased vulnerability to inattentiveness and behavioral and learning difficulties. 

Synthetic food dyes can also harm adult health. They have been linked to allergies and asthma, and a recent study in mice linked Red Dye No. 40 to inflammatory bowel disease.

The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has noted that current legal levels for synthetic food dyes, set decades ago by the FDA, do not take recent research into account. 

In fact, the FDA has not established limits for FD&C food dyes. Instead, food colors may be used at levels that adhere to “good manufacturing practice.” Specific limits apply to just two food dyes, Orange B and Citrus Red 2.

Avoiding artificial sweeteners and dyes

If you’re serving cocktails or mocktails this holiday season and plan to use a mix, here are some tips to avoid harmful synthetic food dyes and artificial sweeteners:

  • Check labels. In general, artificial dyes and sweeteners must be listed among the ingredients of packaged foods, so study labels to avoid products that contain them. 
  • Consult EWG’s Food Scores database to find alternative products that don’t contain harmful food dyes and artificial sweeteners. When you’re on the go, use our Healthy Living app to find products without toxic chemicals.
  • Choose packaged foods that are certified organic whenever possible – they must meet strong standards that protect consumers from exposure to most potentially harmful food additives.
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