Meghan Burke, a 22-year-old U. Florida marketing senior, was shocked to learn that the Gatorade she was enjoying contained an ingredient banned in other countries for health reasons.
“Wow,” she said. “It makes me wary. If they’re taking it out of their drinks in other countries, they should take it out of American drinks.”
In a statement last Friday, Gatorade spokeswoman Molly Carter said that the company has decided to remove the controversial ingredient from its sports drinks after “hearing rumblings” from its customers. UF, which developed Gatorade in 1965, receives 20 percent of the royalties from sales of the drink.
Brominated vegetable oil is an ingredient in Gatorade Orange that allows the citrus flavor to be distributed evenly. Mountain Dew, Fanta Orange, Fresca and Powerade also contain the ingredient.
When consumed in excessive quantities, research has found that brominated vegetable oil can build up in the body and in breast milk. The chemical has also been linked to neurological impairment, reduced fertility and changes in thyroid function, according to the New York Times.
It is illegal as a food additive in the European Union, India, Brazil, Japan and Canada.
It remains legal in the U.S. on an “interim basis pending additional study,” according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Its interim status has lasted 36 years.
Renée Goodrich-Schneider, an associate professor in UF’s department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, said she is comfortable consuming the oil because it doesn’t harm people at the levels at which it is typically consumed.
“We all have access to the same data, but we all don’t make the same decisions based on that data,” she said.
Keith Schneider, an associate professor in the same department, said the incidents of illness from the oil are extremely rare and caused by excessive consumption.
“It is generally regarded as safe,” he said. “They were drinking four to eight liters a day of this stuff. If you drink that much of anything, you’ll be in the emergency room.”