Brominated vegetable oil, or BVO, was originally developed as a flame retardant used to keep plastics from catching on fire. Soon after that, food scientists found another use for it—it keeps the oils in beverages from separating, a purely cosmetic thing.
BVO is banned in Japan and the European Union but perfectly legal here in the United States, where several flavors of Powerade and Gatorade—along with Mountain Dew and some orange sodas—contained the chemical to keep ingredients from separating in the can or bottle.
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Last year, Gatorade dropped the ingredient after Mississippi teen Sarah Kavanagh started a Change.org position that urged maker PepsiCo to get rid of the ingredient. She started a similar petition urging Coca-Cola to do the same with its Powerade drinks. Recently, bottles of Powerade without BVO are turning up in certain markets across the country. That's probably a good thing, given excessive BVO consumption has been linked to symptoms of bromine poisoning, including skin lesions, memory loss, and nerve disorders. Rodent studies also suggest BVO could cause heart damage.
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According to the AP report, a spokesperson from Powerade maker Coca-Cola said it is BVO-free now, although it is possible some BVO-containing bottles are still on store shelves. A Rodale News search on Powerade's website on May 5, 2014, found Powerade's Fruit Punch and Strawberry Lemonade flavors still listed "brominated vegetable oil" as an ingredient.
BVO-related bad press has plagued soda and sports drink companies for years. In early 2012, Rodale News named it as one of the 15 Grossest Things You're Eating, a story that's garnered national attention.
The bottom line? Even though sports drink companies are giving BVO the boot, there are plenty of other reasons to avoid them. Many are loaded with high-fructose corn syrup or shady artificial sweeteners and fake food dyes. If you endure tough workouts and need an electrolyte boost, try something more natural like organic coconut water.