By Maura Judkis, The Washington Post
The gummy bear cleanse sounds like a joke, and for one day, that’s all it was. On April 1, 2016, Rosie O’Neill, co-founder of the boutique candy brand Sugarfina, decided to play an April Fools’ prank, sending an email to customers advertising the brand’s newest flavor: green juice. It was funny because although green juice can taste good, many people don’t exactly drink the spinach- or kale-based beverage for its flavor, just its health benefits.
The joke went over their heads.
“We started getting all of these phone calls from people, people emailing us and saying, ‘Where I can I buy these?’ ” said O’Neill, who spent the day on the phone apologizing to all the customers who did not realize it was April Fools’ Day. “That light bulb moment went off, like, ‘Oh, people might actually want this as a real product.’ ”
That’s how the 7-day gummy bear “cleanse” was born. The word “cleanse” is in quotation marks because Sugarfina doesn’t think people should consume only gummy bears for one week, and the company isn’t claiming to exorcise toxins from a person’s body. So, it’s about as effective as a real cleanse, then.
Sugarfina is already well-known for popularizing gummies based on another popular beverage: rosé. They offer other boozy treats, such as bourbon, tequila and the Cuba libre. For the green juice gummies, which were introduced for real this April, they partnered with Pressed Juicery, a California-founded juice company with locations across the country.
“It’s a little less intense on the green side,” O’Neill said. “It’s more apple- and lemon-dominated.” They also added vitamins C and A to the gummy bears, but one of the mini bottles of gummies will give you only 20 percent of your daily value for each. It’s not meant to replace a gummy vitamin, though. A full seven-day cleanse will set you back $23.
“It’s meant to be a tongue-in-cheek fun thing. It’s meant to be a gift for your friend who’s healthy and loves juices,” O’Neill said. “Our customers see it as that. They’re not actually thinking they’re doing a cleanse.”
Except there actually is another type of gummy bear cleanse, and hoo boy does it cleanse. You see, a few years ago, thanks to some online reviews, people discovered that eating sugar-free gummy bears produced the same effect as laxatives. The culprit is a low-calorie sweetener called Lycasin, which is difficult for many people to digest. Its effects kick in after as few as a dozen bears.
“Long after eating about 20 of these all hell broke loose. I had a gastrointestinal experience like nothing I’ve ever imagined,” said one 2012 review of Albanese sugar-free gummies that is either very gross or very funny, depending on your opinion of scatological humor.
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It’s unclear whether anyone decided to eat sugar-free gummy bears as an actual cleanse. But enough people talked about doing it that doctors felt compelled to weigh in and warn people about its effects. “As a weight loss program, there is not enough evidence to back up its ‘accidental’ weight loss benefits,” writes the website Healthy Diet Base, which seems to be treating the Gummy Bear Cleanse far more seriously than is merited.
For the record: Sugarfina gummy bears do not contain Lycasin, only real sugar. There are no artificial colors or flavors, In fact, O’Neill didn’t even know about the sugar-free gummy bear cleanse until this interview.
“This is the first time I’m hearing about it. Hopefully people aren’t making that association,” she said, before promising to Google it. “We really wouldn’t encourage anything like that.”
After all, even though her green juice gummy bears are healthier than other gummies, “It’s still candy.”