The commercials will have you believe Carnation Instant Breakfast (or Carnation Breakfast Essentials, as it’s now known) is a healthy way to start your day. But while a chocolate beverage may sound delicious when you first wake up, it isn’t clear that Carnation is a healthy choice.

Carnation breakfast drinks have been around for decades. According to their website, the rebranding to Breakfast Essentials reflects the “nutritional quality” of the product. Unfortunately, with an ingredients list that begins with sugars and is filled with unpronounceable ingredients, the drink’s label reads more like a supplement than actual food.

Nutritional Overview

One packet of the Breakfast Essentials powdered drink mix contains 220 calories when prepared as directed with skim milk. It also contains 5 grams of protein and 27 grams of carbohydrates. Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of those carbs (19 grams) come from sugar.

Did You Know?
  • The ingredients list on a nutrition label is ordered by quantity in descending order.
  • That means Carnation Breakfast Essentials includes more sugar and maltodextrin than anything else (aside from the nonfat milk you add)

The drink mix contains 140 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C as well as numerous other vitamins and minerals. However, the ingredients tell more of a story.

Ingredients on nutrition labels are listed by quantity, from the greatest to the least, by weight. In the Carnation powdered drink mix, sugar is listed second. That simply means that, out of all ingredients, it only includes nonfat milk in greater amounts. Maltodextrin, a corn syrup solid and another form of sugar, is the third ingredient listed.

On the Ready-To-Drink Carnation Breakfast Essentials bottle, the list is similarly depressing. The second ingredient listed is corn syrup, and the third is sugar.

The Trouble with Sugar

The 19 grams of sugar present in the Carnation Breakfast Essentials powder drink mix equates to almost 5 teaspoons. That means if you were to drink one Carnation Breakfast Essential drink every weekday for a year, you’d get an extra 1,300 teaspoons of sugar from your breakfast alone. That’s 48 cups!

The health risks of consuming too much sugar are well known. High levels of sugar consumption can lead to weight gain, tooth decay, and increase the amount of triglycerides in your blood, which can lead to heart disease. These effects can up your risk for diabetes and other chronic and deadly conditions.

Synthetic Nutrients

Look Closely at the Ingredients
  • One Carnation Breakfast Essentials drink contains almost 5 teaspoons of sugar.
  • That’s 48 cups a year if you drink one every weekday!

After you get past the amount of sugar listed on the label, you’ll find what looks exactly like the list on the back of your daily vitamin. That’s because the beverage contains largely synthetic forms of naturally occurring nutrients.

First up, you’ll find carrageenan, a thickener that’s no stranger to controversy. Because of its potentially cancer-causing properties, it’s the target of an ongoing effort to get it removed from the U.S. food supply.

The list also includes iron in the form of ferric orthophosphate, vitamin E in the form of alpha tocopheryl acetate, vitamin B5 in the form of calcium pantothenate, vitamin B6 in the form of pyridoxine hydrochloride, and sodium ascorbate as a synthetic form of vitamin C that consists of ascorbic acid.

Healthy Breakfasts Don’t Require Supplement-Like Labels

Many people opt for solutions like Carnation Breakfast Essentials when they need something quick and easy for the morning commute. If that’s the case in your situation, consider green smoothies instead. Filled with fresh produce, it’ll give you all the vitamins and minerals without the mind-boggling ingredients and added sugars.

But if you have the time, cook for yourself. An egg white omelet with fresh fruit juice and whole-wheat toast will not only provide all the nutrients you need from breakfast — including vitamin C, protein, and iron — it’ll likely keep you energized far longer than a processed milk shake.