We all know that feeling of the mid-day slump. But, think twice before you grab that energy drink. Conventional energy drinks can have detrimental health consequences. Instead, consider a natural energy drink to keep you engaged and energized throughout the day.

New product launches in this category climbed 110%, meaning that you now have more choices than ever before in this category (1). One possible reason for the growing popularity of energy drinks could be that they fit numerous shoppers’ needs for fast, convenient energy, be they office workers, college kids or athletes. But, there’s a lot to think about before you guzzle down your next energy drink.

Energy Drinks and Parties Don’t Mix
College students needing some extra “oomph” for late-night studying often turn to energy drinks. Though natural energy drinks can be beneficial, highly caffeinated, conventional products can be dangerous.

Adverse effects are especially notable when energy drinks are mixed with alcohol. Some students engage in this dangerous practice as a means of getting a high without getting sleepy. Fatigue is the body’s way of saying it has had enough to drink and it is dangerous to fool your body into thinking it is not drunk—not to mention the potential dangerous effects of alcohol consumption itself.

Ingredients within energy drinks don’t mix well with alcohol. Many conventional energy drinks contain large amounts of caffeine (2). High levels of caffeine can boost heart rate and blood pressure, causing palpitations. Mixing these drinks with alcohol further increases the risk of heart rhythm problems. One appeal behind mixing energy drinks with alcohol is the promise of a sustained rush and to combat hangovers. Alcohol makes people dehydrated and the caffeine in the energy drinks serves as a diuretic, making the effects of the dehydration even worse. Again, natural energy drinks can help students needing a pick-me-up, but mixing them with the party scene is definitely not a good idea.

Ingredients to Avoid
When looking at the energy drink market, it’s important to note the differences between conventional and natural energy drinks. Added caffeine, as previously noted, is a major component in mainstream energy drinks. Some drinks have as much as 275 mg of caffeine per serving. This amount is three to nine times more than what is found in normal soft drinks (3). However, natural energy drinks usually do not contain any added caffeine, instead integrating botanical ingredients with naturally occurring caffeine.

Also common in conventional drinks is taurine, an amino acid the body uses to help regulate heartbeat, muscle contractions and energy levels. A synthetic form can be found in many conventional energy drinks. Analyzing the ingredients in energy drinks launched between 2004 and 2008, Mintel found that taurine— which it calls a “popular, yet controversial energy-boosting ingredient”— was used in 21% of energy drinks in 2008 (1). Taurine can be dangerous. In large amounts, it can react with other ingredients such as caffeine and can cause anxiety, irritability and a rise in blood pressure. For this reason, some experts suggest those with high blood pressure should avoid energy drinks with caffeine and taurine (4,5). Conventional energy drinks often also contain large amounts of sugar and artificial coloring agents.

Luckily, there are healthier options for those who do not want the added caffeine and sugar.

Natural Energy Drinks
Natural energy drinks found in your local health food store contain healthy ingredients like B-vitamins, green tea extracts, ginseng and gingko biloba. These ingredients provide an energy boost without the unwanted side effects of conventional products. Added caffeine in traditional energy drinks cause a fast jump in “jittery” energy followed by a low. Conversely, natural energy pick-me-ups like gaurana and green tea are sources of naturally occurring caffeine that offer a healthy, prolonged sense of alertness without a crash.

Healthy natural pick-me-ups include:
• Guarana increases alertness and energy.
• Ginseng is found in many energy drinks because it helps ward off fatigue.
• Gingko biloba helps with memory retention, concentration, circulation and can act as an anti-depressant.
• Green tea extracts increase endurance and boost oxidation within the body.
• Yerba mate, B-vitamins, açaí berry and l-carnitine are also natural energy boosters.

If you need an energy boost to battle fatigue during the day, stick to drinks with natural ingredients to avoid the side effects that usually come with consuming excess amounts of caffeine and sugar. WF

1. Mintel Global New Products Database, “Energy Drink Ingredients Cont inue Down Unheal thy Path,” August 28, 2009, www.mintel.com/press-centre/press-releases/386/energy-drink-ingredientscontinue- down-unhealthy-path, accessed July 26, 2010.

2. “Energy Drink Side Effects,” www.energyfiend.com/2009/09/energydrink- side-effects, accessed July 26, 2010.

3. J. Nandi, “Energy Drinks Could be Harmful,” The Times of India, July 1, 2010.

4. W. Dunham, “Energy Drinks Jolt Blood Pressure, Study Finds,” Reuters, Nov. 6, 2007, www.reuters.com/article/idUSN0637974320071106, accessed July 26, 2010.

5. R. Beliveau, “Energy Boost Not Worth It,” Toronto Sun, July 9, 2010, www.torontosun.com/life/healthandfitness/2010/07/09/14659856.html, accessed July 26, 2010.


Published in WholeFoods Magazine, September 2010