The Truth Behind “Health Drinks”

Hello parents!

How have you all been? I know you and I have shared a formal yet loving e-relationship and it breaks my heart to do this to you, but there is no other way. After today, you won’t want to stay in any form of contact with me… ever. I wish there was a way around this… I really do. But,as fate would have it (and as it has turned out to be the case multiple times in the past) – I’m here to expose the crap that you are (mostly unknowingly) doing to your kids and you’re here to, well, hate me, live in denial for a bit and eventually come around and thank me for being the ass that I am.

So, take care you. It was fun while it lasted. And by the way, is where you want to send your hate mails and that will be the same ID you would have to email later to apologize, thank etc.

– – – – – x – – – – –

As we all know, health drinks like Complan, Bournvita, Boost and Horlicks are common ‘health food drinks’ in most houses today as they has been for a few decades now. That’s just awesome right? I mean, kids don’t get much nutrition these days and, as a parent, making sure they get the required nutrients is at the top of your priority list I’m sure. You, parents, are of course super busy throughout the day with work and meeting, and health drinks manufactured by, well, someone somewhere, that provide kids with everything they need to grow into strong healthy adults, is definitely a convenient way of ensuring quality nutrition.

The Marketing

What is so good about these health drinks anyway? What do the good-hearted manufacturers say about these?

Complan is a trusted, fortified dietary supplement formulated to provide high quality nutrition. It provides a balanced mix of high-quality, essential protein, fat and carbohydrate to provide energy, as well as an extensive range of vitamins and minerals, and it provides a useful boost to energy even in small servings.

Drinking a mug of Horlicks is the natural choice when you want to relax before going to sleep, so you awake feeling refreshed and revived

Boost is the secret of winning energy!

And this is what you read on the boxes, hear them say on TV, read on papers etc and hence, this is what you know. As a result, you buy boxes and boxes of these each year and even force feed your kids to drink them. But do you know if these claims are true? Are these ‘health’ drinks truly healthy? It isn’t for nothing that these companies claim that their drinks are filled with health. Right? I mean, these companies are not going to blatantly lie to us are they?

Ummm… I don’t know. My guess is as good as yours really. I, too, was told that they’re very good for me and, since they were delicious, I drank (and ate) them in massive quantities! So why don’t we try and figure out the truth together. Mmmmkay?

The Truth

As a first and most basic step, let’s look into the ingredients of some of these health drinks.

Horlicks – Malted barley, milk solids, sugar, wheat flour, malted wheat, minerals, protein isolate, emulsifier, salt, acidity regulator, vitamins, natural color

Bournvita – Malt extract, sugar, cocoa solids, milk solids, caramel, liquid glucose, permitted emulsifiers, vitamins, minerals, raising agent, salt

Complan – Skimmed milk, lactose, vegetable oil, maltodextrin, sugar, glucose syrup, fat reduced cocoa powder, dextrose, flavourings, magnesium sulphate, thickener (xanthan gum), vitamin mix, mineral mix.

Boost – Malted barley, wheat flour, sugar, milk solids, minerals, colour, glucose, salt, acidity regulator, cocoa powder, vitamin, protein isolate, edible fiber, nature identical flavouring substances

A small ‘did you know’ before we go ahead an analyze these lists.

  • In any product, the ingredients need to be listed in the order of maximum composition. That is, the first ingredient is the most dominant ingredient followed by the second and then the third and so on.

So now let’s analyze these health drinks by looking at their ingredients from a slightly different perspective.


What it contains

What it really contains

Horlicks Malted barley, milk solids, sugar, wheat flour, malted wheat, minerals, protein isolate, emulsifier, salt, acidity regulator, vitamins, natural color Grain, processed junk, sugar, grain, grain, artificial minerals, processed junk, junk, junk, salt, artificial vitamins, junk
Bournvita Malt extract, sugar, cocoa solids, milk solids, caramel, liquid glucose, permitted emulsifiers, vitamins, minerals, raising agent, salt Grain, sugar, processed junk, processed junk, sugar, sugar, junk, artificial vitamins, artificial minerals, junk, salt
Complan Skimmed milk, lactose, vegetable oil, maltodextrin, sugar, glucose syrup, fat reduced cocoa powder, dextrose, flavourings, magnesium sulphate, thickener (xanthan gum), vitamin mix, mineral mix. Processed junk, sugar, oxidizable unstable fat, sugar, sugar, sugar, processed junk, sugar, junk, junk, junk, artificial vitamins, artificial minerals
Boost Malted barley, wheat flour, sugar, milk solids, minerals, colour, glucose, salt, acidity regulator, cocoa powder, vitamin, protein isolate, edible fiber, nature identical flavouring substances Grain, grain, sugar, processed junk, artificial minerals, junk, sugar, junk, junk, junk, artificial vitamins, processed junk, junk, junk

And just so we’re clear

Why is protein isolate junk? Isn’t whey protein good for you?

Because they say protein isolate and not whey protein isolate. Anytime a food item is mentioned vaguely, there is a good chance (more than 100% that is), that the product is low quality crap. In this case, it probably is soy protein.

Why are raising agents and acidity regulators junk?

Because I don’t want my any kid to ingest anything that requires agents!

But aren’t grains good for health? I’ve read so much about grains being super nutritious!

Well, you walked into the wrong class buddy. This is Real Food For Smart People. Gullibility 101 is across the hall and How The Government Protects Me From The Truth is right next to it. But now that you are here, read this, this and this to learn more about grains and why they are, at best, a nutritionally poor food.

Now, you tell me

Do your kids need this? Are these “health” drinks? Does it make any sense whatsoever that you force your kids to drink this sugary shit? Shouldn’t you be ashamed of yourself for having done this all these days? Too harsh? I don’t think so. And here’s why…

I didn’t have to do any research whatsoever to get all this info. All I had to do was to pick up a tin/box of these health drinks and read the ingredients! All this is printed on the box… on every box! Go ahead and check… it is, at this very moment, sitting in your kitchen cabinet. Truth is, you just didn’t have either the brains or the time or both to read the ingredients before, during or after buying such heavily marketed processed “health” food or before, during or after pouring it down your and your kid’s mouth… every… single… day!

Still don’t get it?

For those of you who still don’t understand how big a (nutritional) crime it is to sell and feed kids with such crap, let’s look at this in yet another angle. Here are the ingredients of two very famous products.

Product A – Wheat flour, sugar, edible vegetable oil, cocoa solids, invert syrup, salt, raising agent, sugar, edible vegetable fat, emulsifier. And that really means? Grain, sugar, oxidizable unstable fat, processed junk, sugar, salt, junk, sugar, oxidizable vegetable fat, junk

Product B – Sugar, peanuts, glucose syrup, skimmed milk powder, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, sunflower oil, lactose, milk fat, vegetable fat, whey powder, salt, emulsifier, salt. And that really means? Sugar, junk, sugar, processed junk, processed junk, processed junk, oxidizable unstable fat, sugar, processed junk, oxidizable unstable fat, processed junk, salt, junk, salt.

If you compare these two lists to the lists mentioned above (that of health drinks), you’ll see that there is very little difference. Both contain grains, sugars and other junk and literally nothing else! In fact, there is absolutely nothing in both that is even marginally close to being good for you and/or your kids.

So what is product A? And what is product B? Any guesses? Why don’t you take a minute to think about this.

OK I don’t trust you. Just so you don’t cheat and actually spend a few seconds to think about it, I’ll cover up the answers by putting up a list of food manufacturing companies that actually truly care about your and your kid’s health.

OK. Now to the answers.

Product A is the never healthy…

Product B is the sinful…

Well well! How about that? Oreos and snickers are junk and unhealthy, but Bournvita and Boost are nutritious? Kinda stupid won’t you agree?

What about the micro-nutrients?

You’re such an idiot Raj! It’s all about the vitamins and minerals that these health foods are loaded with! Looks like you’re the one who doesn’t get it!

You know what? You’re right! Let me try and fix it now.

So, how about this then…

 +  = 

Give your little one a candy bar each morning before he/she runs off to school and just before bed along with a couple of multi-vitamins and you’re set! The kid won’t refuse it for sure and will smile and love you for eternity… and of course, will grow up to be a complan snickers boy or girl!

What say?

The verdict

Listen. I understand you mean well and that you want to provide your kids with the most nutritious foods. I also understand that the marketing done by these multi-million dollar food companies is absolutely awesome and hence very convincing. But, you need to understand a few things…

  • No food company gives a rats ass about your or your family’s health. They are all in it to make a buck and will do anything to make another.
  • Irrespective of how convincing a product is, it is your duty as a parent (and as a person who has common sense) to look into the list of ingredients and make smart choices.
  • There is no product that is as nutritionally dense as real food. If your kids won’t eat real food, train them to eat real food. If you can keep them away from cocaine, you can keep them away from junk.
Take a minute and share the knowledge ‘cos irrespective of how much we all care about our health and nutrition, the Nestles and the Coca Colas and the Cadburys are still emptying wallets and filling tummys (with junk).

Cut through the marketing crap and think behind the box!

Peace out.

50 responses to “The Truth Behind “Health Drinks”

  1. anand srivastava November 2, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    Very nice. My son doesn’t like milk, so he gets eggs for breakfast. We don’t try to make the milk taste awesome by putting a lot of sugar and other junk in it. Does he really need milk? We don’t get very good milk, just passable, so I don’t really think its a bad thing. He eats a lot of cheese, whenever he wants to snack. He also eats curd.

    • RG November 2, 2011 at 7:46 pm

      Thats awesome Anand! When a food, even a superfood, isn’t good in quality, there is no reason to force feed them that.

  2. varsha tiwary November 2, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Great Post well put – moms would thank you 🙂

  3. ananthavalli November 2, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    X-treme truth. Unable to digest immediately. Thanks for such a thoughtful bolg. Actually we should sue them (I mean brand A, B etc.,) legally. I’m paying so much to buy it and its frustrating to know the FACT!!!

    • Vizeet November 2, 2011 at 4:05 pm

      Someone sued complan for their advertisement. He lost case. They are big because they know how to win litigations.

    • RG November 2, 2011 at 7:47 pm

      Blood boils doesnt it? What are we doing to do about it?

      • Prashanth Varadarajan January 24, 2012 at 8:55 am

        We create more awareness of this before we think about suing companies. When such a thing is made exceptionally aware through every form possible, like say T shirts or creating posters and when the media gets wound, we start a slow but a huge protest. Maybe if we’re lucky, in few years the Government would wake the fuck up about this and start really promoting real nutrition instead of garbage which our entire 90s grew up to 😐

  4. Aarthi November 2, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    Ooops.. And there goes oreos and snickers..

  5. Kusum Rohra November 2, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    “Truth is, you just didn’t have either the brains or the time or both to read the ingredients before, during or after buying such heavily marketed processed “health” food ”

    Come on coach, that’s being unfair. For a lot of them parents out there, I am sure it’s not the lack of brains or time, it’s simply that these health drinks have very unfortunately obtained a blindly accepted unquestionable stature of something every child must have. So it’s really great that you put up this post so that people can be aware now. What I find most irritating is people who after being given such detailed explanation come back with retorts such as “So what’s wrong with grain” or “So what’s wrong with having some sugar, don’t kids need that energy” really, now these kinds have no brains whatsoever!!!

    • The Mad Momma November 2, 2011 at 7:27 pm

      What Kusum said. Stop being mean to us! It’s been around for ages and trusted by our parents. But we’re happy to be corrected. Now why don’t you tell us what we can put in the milk since I’d like them to have it. Unless you dont think they should have it.

      • RG November 2, 2011 at 7:45 pm

        Not being mean MM. Read my reply to Kusum. The truth is that people dont care enough to understand what they feed their kids. I don’t care about what goes in a cake, cos you dont eat a cake everyday. But if youre eating something every single day, shouldnt you take a minute to understand what it is? Again, I agree that the marketing is pretty much flawless and the products also come highly recommended from our mothers, but come on! How much research do parents do before buying their kid a bicycle? They look into quality, safety, price, brand etc etc. They make sure there are safety wheels etc. Then why not take the hit for not having looked at this?

        Don’t get me wrong but we all need to take hits for being stupid. I felt like crap for days when I learnt about the pesticide reality in India. Why? Because, as a health advocate, I have been recommending that people eat about a kilo of vegetables everyday. And suddenly one day I discover, vegetables in India are, basically, poisonous! How could I have missed that? As a health advocate, that was careless of me.

      • RG November 2, 2011 at 7:53 pm

        What you can put in the milk… well just milk is obviously the answer! And that too if you get good milk and not the phosphorous filled ones or the brands that are actually milk powder + water.

        Obviously you cant go from cocaine (health drinks) to plain milk directly. So, try shakes (good quality milk + organic fruit) or try melting a square of dark chocolate and add a teaspoon of sugar. As they get used to it, slowly pull out the sugar.

    • RG November 2, 2011 at 7:39 pm

      Kusum, Dont agree. Parents spend enough time browsing through stores when buying their kids the best clothes. Do they listen to their parents blindly and dress them up like in the 80s? No right. We call ourselves the new generation and that we’re smarter and blah blah. How long does it take to take a quick peek at the list of ingredients? Again, this is not a product with one nasty ingredient. Every single ingredients is absolute freakin junk!

      Of course agree with you on the second part of the comment.

  6. Vizeet November 2, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    Keep your child away from ultra tasty, ultra entertaining and industrially processed stuff if you really care about them.

    Keeping my baby off them will be challenge. There is too much junk out there.

    • RG November 2, 2011 at 7:48 pm

      big big challenge Vizeet. Have you checked your FB mailbox? I’d emailed you regarding this a while back.

      • Vizeet November 2, 2011 at 11:41 pm

        I am not used to receiving messages in Facebook so missed it. Thanks for reminding, I will do a writeup.

  7. Lavanya November 2, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    HA! Guessed Snickers correctly!

    All those years I felt sorry for myself cos I downed regular milky coffee while my friends guzzled down Complan….. and now, I can just pat myself on the back cos my kids drink plain milk. And not the processed kind, thankyouverymuch.

  8. Krithika November 2, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    Ah…finally something I read here and I can say, I’ve done well 😀 I never liked these sugary drinks as a kid and now I keep a bottle at home to eat a spoonful as dessert, say once a month. Plain, room temperature milk rocks!

  9. Sangeetha Muthukrishnan November 2, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    This great article has taken a quick ride around globe shattering pride of well educated, health conscious moms. Let me know if I can get a quick reimbursement on my present day health bills from these companies…I was exclusively brought up on these junk 😦

  10. The Mad Momma November 2, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    Do kids need to be given multi-vits? Or is this also some age old hangover? And is there any harm in giving it to them? And which ones should they be given?

    • RG November 2, 2011 at 7:58 pm

      Absolutely not. Give them real food! Vitamins and minerals are in, well, food! Organic vegetables and fruits, coconut oil, ghee, high quality milk, cheeses, eggs, egg yolks, wild caught seafood and grassfed meat is where the magic is at. A lot harder than just forcing down a pill… but unfortunately we’re made like this!

      • SVin November 2, 2011 at 8:55 pm

        Now that you are in Chennai where do you source your coconut oil and which wild caught fish do you eat?Direct me to the answers/articles if the question is redundant.I am having a hard time locating any unrefined/cold pressed coconut oil like Nutiva in bangalore.Folks what do you use and where do you buy this in Bangalore?

      • RG November 2, 2011 at 9:19 pm

        dark chocolate powder is awesome! whr do you get green & black here in India?

        Wild caught fish – Its not too hard to find in Chennai considering we have a huge shoreline. But I, being born & brought up a vegetarian, find it hard to buy scale, debone and cook the fish. So eating fish is currently a rarity for me. Still settling down you see.

        Unrefined coconut oil is actually easy to find in most stores. Check out some organic stores in blore. They should definitely carry cold pressed unprocessed oils.

      • SVin November 2, 2011 at 10:04 pm

        Green and Black back from Wegmans store in US!

  11. SVin November 2, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    Worthy of a kudos!I kicked out all of the above said from my kid’s daily a few years back!Had to literally fight my mom over horlicks!I direct her to your articles time and again!Your words are a like a shot in the arm.Well said.Hope some real food enthusiasts like us can take up arms against Complan/wheat based product sellers some day soon!

    The only thing we do sometimes is some dark cocolate powder(like Green and Black maybe?) along with milk for the kid.

    • Roxana November 3, 2011 at 2:12 pm

      Svin, you might want to try Namdhari’s in Bangalore or even Nilgiris for the coconut oil. They stock a good brank of unrefined coconut oil.

  12. Manasi November 2, 2011 at 11:20 pm

    Oooh!!! Raj, what about the highly recommended Pediasure? I remember u writing about it, cannot find the article- want to share with my friend in Delhi- her son practically lives on pediasure!

  13. Ashwini November 3, 2011 at 2:43 am

    Is whole organic milk acceptable? I know its pasteurized, homogenized and goodness knows what else…. Or should I just quit with the milk completely? I know my daughter would heave a sigh of relief 🙂

  14. Dianne D'Souza November 3, 2011 at 8:21 am

    Very informative article. My mother never believed in anything processed so I grew up learning to drink milk the natural way which I do till date (if I forget the occasional hot chocolate from Starbucks). Have made my kids do the same. They have no idea what these other drinks taste like other than the occasional milo at mcdonalds ( even then my 7 yr old daughter demanded plain milk). But I feel it’s a habit you need to cultivate right from when they are babies and switch to natural milk. Basically do not add sugar.
    Hey can you do another similar article on processed breakfast cereals and carton juices. They are two more bombshells you need to set off. I never trusted either and allow them only occasionally as I feel the closer you stay to the natural source the better it is.

  15. Preeta November 3, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    Great article! This is such a revelation. I’ve junked all the boxed juices/milk, health drinks, stuff that says low calorie / low fat, etc, etc from my home. We’re so tuned to believing everything we hear especially when its related to health. Its convenient, right? And I agree, no large conglomerate brand truly cares for our health. I guess we’ll have to start reading between the lines, and all that requires is some ‘un’common sense 🙂

  16. Nisha Vikram November 3, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    Are chocolates being substituted for real food? I guess having a bar of chocolate once in a while will not cause any harm.

  17. Vanitha November 3, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    My son’s peadiatrician said that these so called health drinks have sodium (salt) content, which leads to kidney problems. So, I opted for dates syrup and honey to give him with milk.

  18. Arunima November 3, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    Thank you very very much for this information Raj. I needed this since my husband and well-meaning friends have been pushing me to give my son Horlicks, since he is a thin but perfectly active kid :). For now he luuuuvs plain whole milk and I hope it stays like that.

  19. bee November 4, 2011 at 4:06 am

    forget kids. now adults too regularly consume this shit ‘cos it’s “healthy”. “i had cornflakes and complan for breakfast”. what do they want? a medal for not eating doughnuts? how are these better than doughnuts?

    • RG November 4, 2011 at 12:15 pm

      how are these better than doughnuts? – now if we could answer that, the world would be less obese and damned food manufacturers would be poor!

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  22. UmaS January 24, 2012 at 9:07 am

    I think I can say with conviction and am happy to say that my girls didnt drink any of these while growing up !!! Thank God for some good advice from my pediatrician, that I never ventured to see which is health drink is good for them. They have always had only plain milk without sugar. Now, the recent arguments at CFG, makes me wonder if even that milk is good or adulterated.

    My post on Complan, if u are interested to read –

  23. Archana January 25, 2012 at 7:52 am

    Excellent post! Never been a fan of complan/boost crap. Now, tell me – is my home made kanji powder – with kambu, kezhvaragu, ragi and other millets good for breakfast? I am going to pass this to my sister who swears by complan. Shud be ready to face bashing!

  24. Bhaskar March 7, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    A useful message, thanx for such a good explanation.

  25. Poonam March 7, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    An Excellent article…..I have been confused about introducing the right health drink to my 2.5yr old son and today i finally bought complan nutri-gro……..
    …but after reading this article of yours i am gonna return it (thank god i didnt open it yet)

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  27. sherkhanbc July 26, 2012 at 12:18 am

    good junk. keep trying to get hits.

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