Sunny D Isn't Orange Juice—Here's What It Really Is

Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0 / Mike Mozart, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When food labels are vague, there's likely a good reason. That's why the non-dairy filling of Oreo cookies is called creme, and why the less-than-10-percent-butterfat frozen treats at Dairy Queen are labeled soft serve, not ice cream. The same rule applies to Sunny D. The drink may be orange, and it may be juice-like, but it's not orange juice. So what does go into a bottle of Sunny D?

As MEL Magazine reports, Sunny D bills itself as “orange-flavored citrus punch.” A look at the nutrition label confirms that the product barely resembles anything squeezed from a fruit. The two main components are water and high fructose corn syrup, with fruit juices, citric acid, sweeteners, sodium, and colorings making up less than two percent of the formula. One of the most egregious ingredients in Sunny D is something called acesulfame potassium, an alternative sweetener that's been banned in several countries for being a potential carcinogen.

Though Sunny D isn't good for you, it isn't really any worse than most sugary treats made for children. But unlike Yoo-Hoo or Coca Cola, Sunny D's marketing places an emphasis on nutrition. The orange taste, color, and pictures of actual oranges on the bottle trick customers into thinking they're buying real orange juice. The label and commercials also promote the drink's high vitamin content. Even the name “Sunny D” suggests there's vitamin D packed into each container. It is true that Sunny D contains 100 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C, but health experts warn that its sugar content makes whatever nutritional value it does have superficial.

The makers of Sunny D may not advertise it, but the drink's true nature isn't a secret. Nutritionists and members of the orange juice industry have been speaking out against the product's deceptive branding for decades. Sunny D did experiment with a 70 percent fruit juice drink in the UK in 2009, but quickly reverted to its old formula following a drop in sales. So if you like Sunny D for the sugary taste, keep drinking it. But if it's nutrition you're after, make sure your bottle has the words orange juice on the label.

[h/t MEL Magazine]