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Q&A: Preservatives and Coloring in Powdered Juice vs. Liquid Juice

Source: Flickr. By: Roadsidepictures

Question:

Which contains more colorings and preservatives, the liquid ready drinks (for example any juice/drink) or the powder drinks (for example Tang)?

Answer:

Let’s start by looking at Tang. The ingredients on the label are:

SUGAR
FRUCTOSE
CITRIC ACID–fortartness
CALCIUM PHOSPHATE–prevents caking
POTASSIUM CITRATE–controls acidiy
ORANGE JUICE SOLIDS–what they are is unknown!
ASCORBIC ACID–another name for vitamin C
NATURAL FLAVOR
ARTIFICIAL COLOR
XANTHAN AND CELLULOSE GUMS
YELLOW 5
YELLOW 6
ALPHA TOCOPHEROL ACETATE–another name for vitamin E
NIACINAMIDE–one of the B vitamins
ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR
VITAMIN A PALMITATE
VITAMIN B6
RIBOFLAVIN–another name for vitamin B2
BHA

Vitamin C, vitamin E, and BHA are antioxidants that prevent spoilage of food, mostly the oils and fats from going rancid. I’m taking a stab at food science, but I don’t see any other ingredient that would be considered as a preservative (examples of preservatives are calcium propionate, sodium nitrate, sodium nitrite, and sulfites).

Actually, I discovered that Tang was invented as astronaut food. It was used by the NASA Gemini space program because one of the life support-system modules produced water that could be consumed by the astronauts. However, they didn’t like the taste of the water, so Tang was invented to flavor it–both “natural” and artificial flavors.

Along with sugar, more sugar, and no fruit. Maybe a hint of the fruit from the company’s secret flavorings.

Other liquid juices, on the other hand, are another whole story. Some juices are better than others, but my guess is that most of them have more fruit than something like Tang.

When you choose juice, make sure it says 100% fruit juice. The water-sugar combo in most juices is not going to do you any good. Many juices have as low a 5% coming from fruit. So become a pro at reading those labels.

Even with 100% juice, try to drink no more than one 8-oz cup a day. Fruit juice has more calories and sugar, and less fiber than whole fruit. Plus, many studies find that people don’t get “full” after drinking juice compared to eating a whole fruit. For someone trying to cut back on food and calorie intake, juice won’t help. Whole fruit will.

The answer to the question really is: Tang and other powdered flavored “juices” are not really juice. Flavorings, colors, preservatives, and sugar. The label says it’s an instant breakfast drink that provided 100% of vitamin C need for the day. Well, a cup of 100% orange juice or one cup of cut up strawberries do too. Do I recommend them for anyone? Absolutely not.

Strawberries vs. Tang, gimme some strawberries please! Picture source: Flickr. By: Chotda

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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Nicole, RD April 9, 2010, 4:33 pm

    Great breakdown! I had heard that Tang was created for astronauts! Funny that it’s true 🙂

    Have a great weekend, Nour!

  • tasteofbeirut April 9, 2010, 10:01 pm

    Well I guess we were bred to become astronauts then! So many kids used to drink Tang and no parents thought anything of it!

  • Nisrine@Dinners & Dreams April 10, 2010, 12:45 am

    This is a very informative and interesting post. Thank you!

  • Nour El-Zibdeh, RD April 11, 2010, 8:38 am

    Thanks Nicole, Joumana, and Nisrine.
    Yes we used to drink a lot of it as kids, but I guess nutrition and health weren’t as big as they are now. I can’t see myself giving it to my kids.
    Astronaut food is funny…they sell it some at the Air and Space Museum in Washington DC if you ever come that way!

  • Basima April 15, 2010, 4:07 am

    While on the topic of preservatives, I have 2 questions for you. We live in the United Arab Emirates where only 5% of the land is suitable for farming. Most fruits and vegetabeles and meat are imported. Some items come from neighboring countries, while others may come from places like Australia and the state of Washington. My question is should I buy fresh, frozen, or even canned in this case? What would have the least amount of preservatives?

    • Nour El-Zibdeh, RD April 15, 2010, 8:58 am

      Hi Basima,
      Thant is a good question. Try to find out what is local to that area and what foods come from neighboring countries and buy those fresh. When shipped, produce doesn’t get treated with preservatives. Instead it’s harvested when not ripe yet and transported in refrigerated containers, which means your produce probably has lost some nutrients and has less good taste, but I wouldn’t worry about preservatives there.

      Frozen foods are flash boiled in water then freezed, which preserves nutrients. Frozen foods are becoming more popular now that we know that when harvested in season, fruits and vegetables have peak nutrients, and companies process these foods in season when they are in their cheapest cost. So frozen foods might be your best option for non-local and non seasonal foods. However, I do understand that frozen doesn’t always taste as good as fresh, so you can go back and forth with both of them if you prefer the texture of fresh.

      Canned foods tend to have the most sodium (as preservative) and recommend not use them unless you can get low-sodium or no salt cans, or if you rinse them well with water before serving.

  • Robin August 9, 2011, 9:50 am

    Fact Check. Tang was not invented for Astronauts. Look it up on Wikipedia. It was made 1959, six years before NASA started using it. But didn’t sell well before NASA started using it in 1965.

  • Annamaria Reding March 31, 2012, 6:38 am

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