Healthy Energy Drinks – An Oxymoron?
What are healthy energy drinks? Do they truly exist — or is this just more marketing hype? Did someone in the advertising department just slap the word “healthy” on the can and hope no-one inspects the ingredients? In some cases they did, but not always.
First, let’s examine some science on what is healthy or unhealthy about any beverage. That would be a good starting point, wouldn’t it?
What is an energy drink, in essence — and what would qualify one to be called “healthy”?
Energy drinks are essentially a blend consisting of one or more stimulants, a flavoring, usually some added sugar for palatability, and herbs/amino acids/vitamins to buffer any nervousness caused by the stimulant and to facilitate the creation of energy naturally.
(This is the ideal of what energy drinks can be, but in practice some manufacturers cut many corners. It is wise to remember, “Let the buyer beware!”)
Tea, coffee, and some herbal forms of stimulants like guarana, coca, cacao, yerba mate, khat, ephedra, and kola nut are widely used worldwide. Tea and coffee are the most familiar and have been found to have some beneficial health properties, even though they are to some degree habit-forming.
Most parents would not be too alarmed by their children drinking an occasional coffee, cola, or cup of tea — Agreed?
The unfamiliar ingredients, when scrutinized on a can label, are usually the source of much public mistrust of energy drinks. Sometimes this mistrust is warranted and sometimes it is not — it depends on what the ingredient is and its purpose.
For instance, ephedra, which is rarely used in energy drinks, has caused some problems, such as irregular heartbeat, heart attack, stroke, and even death in a few instances. These are not symptoms that build a happy, growing customer base, as you can imagine!
Taurine, on the other hand acts as a modulator, that is a “governor” on the energy level. It is also an antioxidant, which helps to neutralize free radicals which are produced by the body in its day-to-day processes. It has been found safe enough and valuable enough to be used in baby formula, so there is no cause to fear taurine. It has a purpose here. (See Wikipedia for the many benefits of taurine.)
Legitimate cause for concern arises around the quantities of sugar and caffeine many of these energy drinks contain.
High levels of caffeine and other stimulants are reason for concern among many parents and health professionals, but equal attention should be paid to the huge doses of various types of sugars in energy drinks.
The average American consumes about a half-pound of sugar every day! A large portion of this comes from soft drinks, including energy drinks and coffee drinks. At nearly two ounces of sugar in one tall can of the common brands of energy drink, it doesn’t take too long to get our half pound of sugar.
High sugar consumption often leads to weight gain, which leads to diabetes, Type 2. Diabetes is on the increase in America and worldwide and it is a serious, eventually fatal medical problem.
Dr. Joseph Mercola recently listed 76 different medical problems caused by our infatuation with sugar. The high sugar levels in most energy drinks disqualifies them from being healthy energy drinks.
Ironically, casual surveys I have taken in so-called health food stores reveal energy drinks in their coolers containing 18-29 grams of sugars. Sugar is sugar, whether it is organic cane sugar or not. One exception to this is the use of agave syrup sweeteners, which contain more fructose which poses a special health threat.
Another cause for concern is the way that most manufacturers choose to sweeten their drinks without using sugar. Artificial sweeteners actually still lead to weight gain, plus some of them have been found to cause structural damage to the brain and nervous system. Aspartame is the worst on this account, causing tumors in research animals and infertility in subsequent generations of offspring when the pregnant mothers were fed aspartame, comparable to what humans might receive.
Potential for long-term nervous system damage is revealed in the investigations of aspartame by Dr. Russell Blaylock and others. Sucralose is another artificial sweetener that provides multiple reasons for avoiding it.
Exaggerated caffeine content is usually less likely when these beverages are sold as “healthy energy drinks”. It should be noted that brands that use guarana and green tea extracts as stimulants avoid the over-stimulating potential of caffeine.
The combination of caffeine, delicious sweet flavors, and inexperienced young consumers of these drinks are legitimate causes for worry by parents. When alcohol is added into the mixture — or some combination of other drugs — then it becomes impossible to predict what might occur.
But, to be fair, this is not the fault of the energy drink itself, but is evidence of a lack of education on how to use these beverages responsibly.
When one knows where the dangers lie and is able to find the rare beverages that qualify as healthy energy drinks, there is nothing to fear — and a lot to be gained — from these drinks.
Of course, there is the understandable tendency of parents to throw up their hands and simply forbid their kids from drinking any of these strange potions. This would be unwise because the young person is probably going to drink energy drinks, anyway, and become alienated from their parent in the process.
Likewise many older adults who are not at much risk for all-night partying, could enjoy healthy energy drinks, if they were able to recognize one.
I hope that this article may serve as a guide to de-mystifying the puzzling topic of healthy energy drinks. I have found great satisfaction in their use as a healthier alternative to coffee.