Energy Drinks, Do’s & Don’ts

November 29, 2010

The holiday season is here and many of us may need an extra boost of energy before the big holiday party.

The holiday season is here and many of us may need an extra boost of energy before the big holiday party. Before turning to the increasingly popular enhanced beverages and energy drinks or an extra cup of coffee, SupermarketGuru wants to share with you some of the facts on these enhanced beverages.

Do note that the safety of caffeinated alcoholic beverages is currently under review by the FDA. Consumers should be very careful when consuming these drinks, as well as using non-alcoholic energy drinks as mixers, if at all. The FDA is concerned that a number of these products do not meet the legal standard for safety. The drinks have already been banned in several states including Washington and Michigan. Health experts say mixing alcohol and caffeine is dangerous because the stimulant masks the effects of the alcohol, letting people drink long after they would have otherwise stopped.

What exactly are “energy drinks?” The term energy drink usually refers to beverages that contain caffeine as well as other ingredients. It is not a term that is recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In moderation, people of all ages can safely consume energy drinks. Caffeine is the primary ingredient in most energy drinks, and is often blamed for causing the negative health effects some people experience. However, the majority of the healthy population can safely enjoy moderate amounts of caffeine without experiencing undesirable symptoms. Staying aware of how much caffeine you are consuming each day from energy drinks, as well as other sources such as coffee, tea, soda, dietary supplements, is important to stay within moderate, safe intake levels.

Some of the most common ingredients in energy drinks include caffeine, taurine, guarana, ginseng, B vitamins and L-carnitine.

Caffeine is included in energy drinks for its potential to improve mental and physical performance- it is often the primary ingredient in energy drinks.

Taurine is an amino acid that the body makes from the foods we eat. Animal products such as beef, pork, lamb, chicken, as well as some fish and shellfish (cod, and oysters) contain taurine. Taurine supports neurological development and helps with the electrolyte balance in the blood. Some studies suggest that it may improve athletic performance. Together with caffeine, research has proposed that taurine may improve athletic and mental performance.

Guarana is a plant that comes from South America. In fact, guarana-containing drinks and sodas are widely consumed in Brazil. Guarana naturally contains caffeine, more so than coffee beans. Guarana content is not typically listed on energy drink labels and adds only a very small amount of caffeine.

Ginseng is another herb commonly found in energy drinks. It is thought to provide a number of potential benefits, including increasing a sense of well-being and stamina; and improving both mental and physical performance, among others. Visit the National Institute of Health for more on Asian ginseng

B vitamins can be found in a variety of foods and help regulate metabolism. Examples of B vitamins include Thiamin and Cobalamin. These vitamins are often included in energy drinks because they are thought to contribute to the maintenance of mental function- thus making us feel more alert.

Carnitine is derived from an amino acid and plays a role in energy production in cells, helping metabolism and energy levels. Some believe carnitine may improve athletic performance; however, there is no consistent research to support this theory. For more information about carnitine, read the NIH’s Carnitine Fact Sheet.

What about the caffeine? The caffeine content of energy drinks can vary greatly. A 250 milliliter (mL) or 8.5 ounce energy drink can have anywhere from 50-160 mg of caffeine. The average 8 ounce cup of coffee has about 100 mg caffeine, and a 12-ounce soft drink contains about 40 mg caffeine. Three hundred milligrams per day is considered moderate caffeine consumption for most individuals, including pregnant women and children. On average, one energy drink would fall within moderate consumption levels.

The SupermarketGuru’s bottom line? Always read labels if you need to reach for an energy drink this holiday season, do so in moderation and make sure that you have a healthful diet. Most importantly, remember to check the number of servings per container to determine the total caffeine content, and to factor in caffeine from other sources in your diet, such as soda and coffee, when determining your total for the day. Remember that the safety of caffeinated alcoholic beverages is currently under review by the FDA, please use caution with these products as well as using energy drinks as cocktail mixers.

As always, speak to your physician before making any changes or additions to your diet.