Disclaimer: None of the information in this article constitutes medical advice, and is just the opinion of the writer(s) and published for informational purposes only. We recommend that patients follow their doctor’s guidance in regard to hydration drinks.
Pedialyte is a popular hydration drink brand that’s available at nearly every major grocery store and pharmacy in the U.S. The brand claims that their drinks can prevent dehydration, and many consumers use them off-label to treat hangovers.
But are the ingredients in Pedialyte actually healthy? Does the average consumer really need “hydration” products beyond water?
In this article we’ll aim to answer these questions and more, by reviewing medical research on some of the ingredients in Pedialyte.
Are Hydration Beverages Necessary?
The theory behind hydration beverages is that consumers can better retain fluid from a dehydrated state, and therefore restore optimal health, when carbohydrates and electrolytes like sodium and potassium are added to water. Medical research shows that electrolytes combined with carbs causes “increased fluid retention” compared to water alone.
However, our question is how many regular individuals achieve such a state of clinical dehydration that this type of special formulation is necessary? We understand the benefit of specific hydration formulations in the context of clinical dehydration, but we haven’t come across any medical evidence that healthy adults have any need for this type of product, or even that this type of product is necessary or superior to water in the context of mild dehydration.
Hospitals treat dehydration with IV fluids that contain electrolytes, and this medical resource page from Cedars-Sinai (a top hospital) suggests that individuals in hot weather or that have sweat a lot from exercise are at increased risk of dehydration.
A medical review published in the Nutrients journal concluded that hydration beverages containing glucose, fructose and sodium could improve athletic performance, but Pedialyte only contains one of these ingredients (sodium).
So perhaps individuals at an increased risk of dehydration may benefit from a product like Pedialyte, but until we come across medical research explaining what circumstances this type of product is beneficial for, or how this type of product performs better than water in the context of an everyday consumer’s life, we will remain confused about the need for “hydration” drinks given that water is inherently hydrating.
Drinking water regularly seems like the logical way to remain hydrated, and is the way that humans evolved to remain hydrated for hundreds of thousands of years.
Pedialyte Classic Review
The original Pedialyte product is called “Pedialyte Classic” and is arguably the most popular Pedialyte drink. The ingredient label above is from the strawberry flavor, but the ingredients of all Pedialyte Classic flavors are similar so our comments stand for all flavors.
Dextrose is the only active ingredient other than water. This ingredient is a simple sugar that accounts for the 9 grams (g) of sugar in this drink. While sugar can help clinically dehydrated patients get back to baseline, we typically recommend avoiding added sugar. Medical research has shown that added sugar consumption is associated with body weight gain, fat gain and metabolic disease.
We’re not suggesting that Pedialyte will cause these health outcomes, but since most Americans already consume enough added sugar from their diet, we consider it to be illogical to consume a hydration beverage containing added sugar.
Citric acid is another ingredient in this formulation that we recommend avoiding. A medical review published in the Toxicology Reports journal has found that this ingredient, which is typically used as a preservative and flavor enhancer, can cause whole-body inflammation in a small subset of patients.
Pedialyte Classic strawberry flavor also contains two artificial food dyes: Red 40 and Blue 1. An extensive medical review that we cite frequently on Illuminate Health found that Red 40 has been found to be contaminated in some cases with carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals). Since there is no nutritional value to artificial food dye consumption, we recommend avoiding it entirely.
The researchers in the above-linked medical review concluded that all artificial food dyes should be removed from foods and drinks due to toxicity concerns: “The inadequacy of much of the testing and the evidence for carcinogenicity, genotoxicity, and hypersensitivity, coupled with the fact that dyes do not improve the safety or nutritional quality of foods, indicates that all of the currently used dyes should be removed from the food supply.”
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener which was found in a recent clinical trial to negatively impact insulin sensitivity in healthy adults. Insulin metabolism regulates blood sugar levels, which is why we always recommend avoiding this artificial sweetener.
Acesulfame potassium is another artificial sweetener which was found in an animal study to cause negative changes to gut function.
Natural flavor is another ingredient we recommend avoiding, but one we consider to be less questionable than artificial flavors and artificial food dye. A medical review published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal documented some health concerns regarding natural flavoring agents, and since this ingredient provides no nutritive or hydration benefit it seems logical to avoid it.
Pedialyte also contains a blend of electrolytes including sodium and potassium citrate. While patients in a clinically dehydrated state may need supplemental electrolytes, we haven’t come across any medical evidence that the average consumer does.
Overall we do not consider this to be a healthy formulation. It contains artificial dye, artificial flavor, added sugar, citric acid and other additive ingredients. We also cannot identify medical evidence explaining why consumers would have a need for this type of product outside of extreme dehydration conditions that seem unlikely in the modern world.
Pedialyte does not share any medical citations on this product’s website page proving or suggesting that this product leads to improved health outcomes compared to drinking water alone.
Pedialyte Popsicles Review
Pedialyte sells a popsicle product called “Pedialyte Freezer Pops” which we would argue has a less healthy formulation than Pedialyte Classic.
In addition to all of the additive ingredients we reviewed in the previous section that we found questionable from a health perspective, such as artificial sweetener, artificial color and added sugar, the freezer pops also contain the preservative potassium sorbate which was found in a clinical trial to be toxic to human cells in vitro.
The above-linked study was conducted in a test tube rather than on live subjects, so the data quality is relatively weak, but it serves as an example of why we recommend avoiding food products containing preservatives. These compounds have no nutritional value and may pose health risks, so it seems logical to avoid them.
There is another preservative in this product called sodium benzoate.
Our overall comments about Pedialyte Popsicles are similar to our comments about Pedialyte Classic: we find it challenging to consider a situation where a consumer in a developed country would benefit from a blend of added sugar, artificial flavors and colors and preservatives beyond just drinking plain water.
Is Pedialyte Organic Healthier?
Pedialyte has a product with an organic certification called “Pedialyte Organic,” so consumers are often curious about whether this is a healthier option.
This drink has the same sugar content (9 grams) as Pedialyte Classic. What we find to be strange about this ingredients label is that Pedialyte defines all of the sugar as “added sugar” even though the first ingredient is organic apple juice concentrate.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), concentrated fruit juice is not considered “added sugar.”
In any case, we consider organic apple juice to be a healthier option than dextrose (which is also in this formulation but presumably to a lesser extent).
Organic stevia leaf extract is used as a natural sweetener, and we would consider this to be a significantly healthier option than the artificial sweeteners in the other formulations. A 2020 meta-study found that stevia has anti-inflammatory and hypotensive (blood-pressure-reducing) properties, which suggests that it has a favorable effect on metabolism. The same study found that stevia may have anti-fertility properties, but we still consider it to be a much healthier option than artificial sweeteners like sucralose.
Organic citric acid is likely derived from citrus fruits like lemon (though we wish Pedialyte would clarify this) which would make it a healthier option than conventional citric acid which is often manufactured from a fungus called Aspergillus niger (potentially explaining its inflammatory effects in some consumers).
We consider organic flavor to be a higher standard of ingredient safety and purity than natural flavor based on USDA guidelines.
This product is free of artificial coloring agents and preservatives.
We consider Pedialyte Organic to be a significantly healthier option than Pedialyte Classic or Pedialyte Freezer Pops. While we don’t recommend any health products containing added sugar, we would definitely recommend this product over other Pedialyte products to consumers who are set on purchasing from this brand.
Whole Foods Electrolyte Drinks
Our general belief is that consuming nutrients from whole foods is a healthier option than consuming commercially manufactured food products.
Since we already established that the combination of electrolytes and sugar is optimal for rehydration, it seems logical to consume whole foods that contain both of these criteria.
Coconut water is a healthy, whole-food beverage that serves as a natural electrolyte drink.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), coconut water provides 250 milligrams (mg) of potassium, 105 mg sodium, 25 mg magnesium and 24 mg calcium per serving. It provides 2.61 g sugar. 100 g is a relatively small serving, and this amount could be increased based on need.
For those willing to take the time, we believe consumers can make a healthy electrolyte smoothie at home prior to working out if they believe they’re likely to become dehydrated. As we referenced in our review of the Gatorlyte drink, a smoothie containing watermelon, spinach, celery and banana could be a healthy, natural electrolyte smoothie.
Watermelon is rich in magnesium, spinach is rich in calcium, celery contains naturally high levels of sodium and bananas are high in potassium.
In our opinion, a homemade smoothie containing the ingredients above would be much healthier than any commercially-available hydration drinks.