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Rating Distribution

Scoring Drinks

Overview

Drinks are organized into the following sub-categories: juices, smoothies, carbonated beverages, energy drinks, sports drinks, prepared teas and coffees, and bottled water.

GoodGuide’s Health ratings for drinks are based on the same methodology we use to rate food products, including:

  • the nutritional value of the drink, as characterized by a standard method of nutrient assessment called the “Ratio of Recommended to Restricted Nutrients” (RRR);
  • indicators of whether levels of specific nutrients exceed public health guidelines;
  • the presence of potentially hazardous additives such as certain food colors; and
  • indicators of various production practices that affect the quality of a food product.
Product-level Environment scores for this category are based on:
  • Container material, indicating a product's material choice and waste management impacts;
  • Country of origin, indicating a product's transportation impact; and 
  • Certifications of product quality.

The environmental attributes used to score drinks vary by sub-category, so product ratings are strictly comparable only within a given sub-category.  Bottled water and sparkling mineral water, for example, receive environmental scores based on country of origin, but other drink sub-categories do not as this information is not available.  For most drink sub-categories, container material drives a product’s environmental score, but in a few sub-categories, such as coffee and tea, certifications allow the rating to address a much wider range of environmental impacts.

Because product-level data on social performance are generally unavailable for drinks, GoodGuide relies on company-level social scores to characterize the performance of a product on those dimensions.

Health Scoring Methodology

RRR – The Ratio of Recommended to Restricted Nutrients

The RRR calculates the ratio of “good” to “bad” nutrients, essentially providing an overall picture of a drink’s nutrition profile.  For drinks, the list of recommended nutrients includes protein, calcium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, and fiber and the list of restricted nutrients includes calories, saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar, and sodium.

GoodGuide calculates the RRR value for each drink based on the data published on a product's nutrition fact panel.  The RRR results are then translated onto GoodGuide's standard scoring range of 0 - 10 according to the following rules:

  • Scores between 0 - 2  are reserved for products that contain no recommended nutrients. Products with no recommended nutrients are given a default score of 2, which is then adjusted downward based on the relative amount of restricted nutrients they contain.
  • Scores between 2 - 6 are reserved for products with more restricted nutrients than recommended nutrients (i.e., a calculated RRR < 1).
  • Scores between 6 - 10 are reserved for products with more recommended nutrients than restricted nutrients (i.e., a calculated RRR > 1).

This  scoring approach allows users to distinguish between products that have essentially no nutritional value (scoring below 2), products that contain more bad than good ingredients (scoring below 6), and products that are on balance good nutritionally (scoring above 6).

Public Health Guidelines

Each drink is then further analyzed to determine whether certain nutrients of public health significance (sugar, sodium, cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans fat) are present in levels that exceed recommended thresholds. An assessment is conducted on energy drinks to determine whether they contain excessive caffeine.  The thresholds GoodGuide uses come from a variety of authoritative sources, including the Institute of Medicine (the scientific body that provides evidence for the Dietary Guidelines for Americans) and the World Health Organization, and are applicable for a 2,000 calorie per day diet.

Potentially Hazardous Food Additives

GoodGuide lowers the score of products that include potentially hazardous food additives. Our lists of such additives come from authoritative third-party sources, including the UK Food Standards Agency and The Center for Food Safety.

Production Practices

There is mounting evidence that the benefits of any particular food go beyond just nutrient content. As a result, GoodGuide’s ratings also take into account the way a food is produced - which may be associated with health issues outside the traditional focus of nutritional evaluations. Negative score adjustments are assigned to drinks that contain High Fructose Corn Syrup. Positive score adjustments are assigned to drinks that are certified organic, made without genetically modified organisms (GMO-free), or produced without the use of recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH, dairy products only).

Health Notes

Bottled and Carbonated Water Methodology

The RRR methodology is not applied to bottled or carbonated waters because these products do not contain nutritional ingredients.  Because such beverages provide hydration that is essential to good health, they are given a Health score of 10.

Bottled Teas Methodology

Bottled teas are scored using an ingredient approach, which is more suitable given the composition of these products. The three factors that are evaluated are the presence of tea in the ingredient statement, the sugar content, and the presence of vitamin C. If tea leaves or flowers are one of the first two ingredients in a product, it is assumed to be a better quality product than when tea appears later in the ingredient statement. Sugar content is evaluated on a sliding scale, with products over 10 grams of sugar getting the worst score. Finally, the presence of vitamin C boosts the product health score. Organic products receive credit in the same way as other food and drink products.

Bulk Coffee and Teas Methodology

The RRR methodology is also not applied to bulk coffee and tea products.  These commodities do not exhibit a consistent set of nutritional attributes -  their nutritional quality is determined primarily by whether they are combined with other foods like milk or sugar.

Environmental Scoring Methodology

For each of the supplemental attributes selected as good indicators of the environmental performance of different drink products, we apply the following scoring rules:

  1. Container Material – According to life cycle assessment studies, a significant portion of the environmental impact attributed to bottled beverages is based on the choice of container material.  Glass, PET plastic, metal cans, and gable-top paper cartons are the most common container types, and we collected data on each of their environmental impacts. Standard metal cans have the most preferable environmental attributes, followed closely by standard PET plastic bottles, then paper cartons. Standard glass containers did not achieve the highest score on any environmental metric, and assuming it is not reused, it has the worst environmental impact of the group. To address the issue of recycling, average recycling rates and average amount of recycled content was taken into account for each of the container types. Our scores assume single use for each container.
  2. Country of Origin – Beverages manufactured in foreign countries have larger environmental footprints than those manufactured domestically. According to one study, imported beverages have on average 3.5 times the energy burden as domestic beverages. For bottled waters and sparkling mineral waters, we collected data on country of origin from manufacturer websites and product packaging.
  3. Certifications – For several drink categories, plant-based ingredients can be certified by a number of third-party systems. GoodGuide reviewed standards for the following certifications and used them for evaluating the environmental impact of beverage ingredients: USDA Organic, Fair Trade, and Starbucks Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices.

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