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.
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.
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, the drink mix 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
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.
Additives and synthetic nutrients
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 very little naturally occurring vitamins and minerals, and therefore synthetic forms of nutrients are added.
Synthetic nutrients are nutrients that are artificially made in a lab.
This breakfast drink includes synthetic nutrients such as iron in the form of ferric orthophosphate, vitamin E in the form of alpha tocopherol acetate, vitamin B-5 in the form of calcium pantothenate, vitamin B-6 in the form of pyridoxine hydrochloride, and sodium ascorbate as a synthetic form of vitamin C that consists of ascorbic acid.
The intake of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals from whole food sources such as fruits and vegetables is ideal compared to getting these from synthetic sources.
In addition, a common additive you’ll find is carrageenan, a thickener that’s no stranger to controversy. It’s considered “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the FDA.
Although it’s currently allowed to be added to foods labeled as organic, most organic companies have voluntarily removed the ingredient due to possible harm it may cause.
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 a green smoothie 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 omelet with a piece of fruit and 100 percent whole-grain toast with avocado will not only provide all the nutrients you need from breakfast — including vitamins, minerals protein, healthy fat, and fiber — it’ll likely keep you energized far longer than a processed milk shake.