In case you haven’t heard (or do not really care and I get that) Bethenny Frankel’s Skinnygirl Margarita was yanked from the shelves of Whole Foods because it contains sodium benzoate. And in case you don’t know who Bethenny Frankel is she was on Bravo’s Real Housewives of NYC (though then not a housewife or wife) and the author of “Naturally Thin” though you can decide if natural is the first word that comes to mind with Bethenny. Skinny and natural don’t always go hand and hand.

 I’ll try and stick to the food/drink part, sorry.
What is sodium benzoate and is it bad?
Sodium benzoate is a preservative, the salt of benzoic acid. CSPI, The Center for Science in the Public Interest, ranks additives and puts it in the “caution” category. The real danger occurs when sodium benzoate is combined with ascorbic acid (aka vitamin C). The two combine to form benzene which is linked to leukemia and other cancers. Many fruits, including the limes in Skinnygirl margaritas, contain ascorbic acid. But Skinnygirl says they use a “miniscule amount” of sodium benzoate. As CSPI points out,  not specifically on the subject of Skinny girl “though the amounts of benzene that form are small, leading to only a very small risk of cancer, there is no need for consumers to experience any risk.” You’ve heard me point out that companies justify sub par chemicals saying they are safe at a certain dose, safe is safe and unsafe is unsafe. Plus, neither Skinnygirl nor the FDA knows how many margaritas me or anyone else plans to drink. 
“It’s a very common preservative.”
Beam, the company who supplies the margarita noted that sodium benzoate was “a very common preservative.” Is “common’ supposed to reassure us?  This ingredient is commonly used in sodas. It was more common before the FDA encouraged companies not to use benzoate in products that contain ascorbic acid. The companies continued with the carcinogen. Then, a lawsuit filed forced Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and other soft-drink makers to make necessary changes.  Other commonly used and crappy  things such as food dyes, high fructose corn syrup and textured vegetable protein aren’t healthy or “high quality” as these margaritas claim to be.
Where are the ingredients?
Skinnygirl’s website states “Bethenny’s Skinnygirl Margarita combines clear tequila, the juice from three lime wedges and a tiny splash of triple sec.” I guess listing sodium benzoate wouldn’t exactly increase the appeal. I checked the bottle for the full ingredient list, which I assumed would contain sodium benzoate, but there isn’t one. If Skinnygirl, as the first paragraph on the site states, “is the margarita you can trust” why not list the ingredients? Hmn, I smell something fishy. 
The reaction
 Bethenny’s reaction also left a little to be desired: “we were bound to piss someone off and everyone loves to try to tear down a success. This is a non-event. I haven’t lost even a wink of sleep.” Whole Foods wasn’t, in my opinion,  trying to tear her down, they just didn’t approve of the sodium benzoate. While, I’m sure it would involve a huge expense “we’re looking into this matter and hope to find a substitute” would’ve been well received. VnCCocktails, mentioned in our latest newsletter, doesn’t use sodium benzoate.
The bottom line
The truth is this is a margarita mix and not a children’s snack or a bunch of kale. We can improve cocktails but no matter how much we love them we shouldn’t drink too many if we want to be healthy. The concept of an improved margarita or a lower sugar, lower calorie cocktail is a great one. Bethenny deserves full credit for refining the recipe. In fact, as The Stir points out the original skinnygirl recipe “tequila, fresh lime juice, and a splash of Triple Sec over ice” is a real improvement over the mixes and sweet drinks used by most establishments. Bethenny’s fans describe her as “brutally honest” and not holding anything back. In the case of the Skinnygirl margaritas, full disclosure would’ve been refreshing.
Have you ever tried or purchased the Skinnygirl margaritas? Would knowing it has sodium benzoate affect your decision to buy a product? Are you a Bethenny fan?


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