are energy drinks bad for you?

are energy drinks bad for you?

Energy drinks have received some negative press lately, as the FDA is investigating their link to 5 deaths and one non-fatal heart attack. But are they really bad for you?

Let's take a look at the main ingredients inside most energy drinks, as well as what some experts had to say:

1. Caffeine

Energy drinks contain caffeine, but so do coffee and most sodas. Is this a bad thing? Let's start by comparing how much caffeine each of these contains:
  • Coffee: 100 - 150 mg in an average cup of Joe
  • Coke: 34 mg in one can of Coca Cola
  • Energy Drinks: 114 mg - 242 mg, depending on the brand.(1)

So, for an adult, energy drinks don't seem to contain an abnormally dangerous amount of caffeine. However, most people don't start drinking coffee until college or early adulthood. Yet energy drinks seem to be marketed to and consumed by high school and middle school students.(me) Experts say caffeine can mess with kids' appetite, sleep habits, mood, heart rate, blood pressure, and more.(2) (3)

Dr Maurice Schneider, former member of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on nutrition, talks about some of the other ingredients' effects: "There's guarana, which is a plant extract and each gram of guarana is equal to 40 milligrams of caffeine as a stimulant. There's another protein called taurine, which potentiates the effect of caffeine."(2)

2. Sugar

Sugar is the easiest thing for your body to turn into fuel. It's a carbohydrate already broken down into its most basic part, so your body doesn't have to do any further breaking down. This gives you a rush of energy, as your body has this new found fuel to use, followed by a crash, leaving your insulin levels out of whack.

Sugar is the carb of choice in most energy drinks.(4)

3. Vitamins and Supplements

I talked about guarana and taurine above; let's focus on B Vitamins here.

Vitamin B is essential in converting food energy into ATP, which is the form of energy your body's cells can use. So it's critical to have Vitamin B in your body. However, having extra B Vitamins on hand doesn't make your body extra energy efficient. And you're probably getting enough Vitamin B from your regular diet.(5) (6) (7)

I like how Monica Reinagel described it on Nutrition Diva: You can't drive your car if it's out of gas - you have to have some gas in the tank for the car to run. But once you have a minimal amount, that's enough. Your car doesn't run any faster if the tank is full. B Vitamins are like this for your body.(5)

4. Calories

The basic variety of Monster energy drink contains 100 calories per 8 oz serving. But the basic variety comes in a 24 oz can, and I don't know anyone who shares their Monster drink with 2 other people. So, assuming you drink a whole can of Monster, you're drinking 300 CALORIES PER CAN!(8)

Forget all the rest of the discussion - a can or two of this per day will blow your diet up!

5. Dental Health

A peer-reviewed study published earlier this year by the Academy of General Dentistry found that energy drinks contain high acidity levels, which causes irreversible decay to tooth enamel at a very rapid rate.(9)

Of course, the American Beverage Association issued a rebuttal, which, in my opinion, sounded pretty flimsy.

I'd recommend avoiding energy drinks based on this one alone - once you mess up your teeth, they're gone.

Bottom Line

Energy drinks contain more caffeine than what's healthy for kids and adolescents, but if you're over 18 the caffeine shouldn't be enough to hurt you. However, it's probably better to substitute it for your coffee, rather than drinking them in addition to your coffee.

But the rest of the story paints a different picture.

  • They have lots of sugar; I usually recommend cutting as much pure sugar out of your diet as possible.
  • They have additional ingredients which amplify the effects of caffeine, which may wreak havoc with your sleep, eating habits, or mood, if you're sensitive to caffeine.
  • They are high in calories; I'm generally against drinking your calories, especially if you're trying to lose weight.
  • And most importantly, they can rot your teeth.

Personally, I don't think the upside is worth the downside. Drink a 2-calorie cup of black coffee instead.

-Chris Butterworth