Deadly Drinks? The Truth About Energy Drinks
YIKES! The beverages you’re chugging to power you through the day could make you sick—or worse.
Anais Fournier, 14, drank two cans of a popular energy drink in two days. Soon after her last sip, she went into cardiac arrest. Six days later, the Maryland teenager died. Doctors blamed the death on complications of caffeine poisoning.
It’s still not clear whether the energy drink is responsible for Anais’s death (the company that makes the drink denies that its product was the cause). But the government has received reports of 18 other deaths that might be connected to various energy drinks and energy shots (go to fda.gov and type “energy drinks” in the search box to see for yourself).
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that children and teenagers should never consume energy drinks. However, up to 50 percent of teenagers do.The drinks are not illegal, so could they really be that bad?
Experts say the first problem is the caffeine content. According to teenhealth.org, adolescents should limit their daily intake to no more than 100 milligrams—equal to about two cans of diet soda—but it’s tricky to know how much you’re consuming. Many energy-drink cans don’t list a number, and if they do, you can’t always believe it: A recent Consumer Reports study found that some energy-drink companies underestimate the amount of caffeine by 20 percent or more. And that’s not all.
“The beverages are packed with stimulants,” says Lori Mooney, a dietitian. “They may give you a buzz, but the combination of stimulants comes with risky side effects, such as increased heart rate, high blood pressure, seizures, and strokes, especially if you have underlying health conditions.”
Anais’s death has led lawmakers to call for government regulation of energy drinks. Meanwhile, don’t take a risk to stay awake. Read on for the best—and worst—ways to power your body.
Pick the Right Fuel!
What you eat can power you up…or shut you down. Get the surprising truth here.
What’s an energy-deprived teen to do? First, know this: The buzz you get from caffeine is a temporary trick. The calories from food are what fuels your body. But not all foods are equal. Use this handy chart to get your motor going—without crashing.
FAIL: Candy from the vending machine.
The surprising science: A sugar rush may get you through your English exam, but you’ll probably crash right after you finish. “Processed, high-sugar foods cause your blood-sugar levels to spike, which initially provides a burst of energy. But when levels go back down, you’ll be hungry and lethargic,” says Kristi King, a registered dietitian with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Beware: Products with claims of “real fruit juice” or ones that proclaim to be “equivalent to a piece of fresh fruit” have minuscule nutritional value when you consider the sugar overload. Plus, if the main ingredient is processed sugar, the effect on your body is no different than from eating a candy bar.
Fuel fix: If a vending machine is your only option, opt for a bag of trail mix. The nuts are packed with protein, a longer-lasting source of energy for your body.
PASS: Granola, cereal, or “energy” bars.
The surprising science: With people calling them “energy” bars or “breakfast” bars, these conveniently packaged treats might feel like they’re suitable replacements for snacks or meals. But many are no more than candy bars disguised as health food, packed with sugar, fat, and unpronounceable ingredients. The only upside is that, unlike a candy bar, they usually contain a decent dose of minerals and vitamins. But are they a good source of energy? “They’re better than nothing, but they shouldn’t be a regular snack,” says dietitian Lori Mooney.
Beware: Always read the nutrition label. A good bar should not have sugar—which comes in many forms, such as sucrose and cane juice—listed as one of the first two ingredients. But it should have at least 3 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein. Many popular bars don’t make the cut: One best-selling bar has only 1 gram each of protein and fiber.
Fuel fix: Look for a balance of carbs and protein for long-lasting energy without too much added sugar.
A+: Turkey & cheese on whole wheat.
The surprising science: This lunch staple might not have any quick-acting secret ingredients, but real food is the best way to power your day. The combo of protein (from the turkey and cheese) and fiber (from the bread) takes longer to digest and keeps sugar levels even, helping you feel full and energized for hours. “The best snacks are whole, unprocessed food, like grains, fruits, veggies, and nuts. They will provide a steady stream of energy to fuel you from lunchtime to soccer practice,” says Mooney.
Beware: You don’t have to eat a full meal whenever you feel sluggish—that’s too much food. But if you think of snacks as mini-meals, you’ll get the right balance of nutrients for a long-lasting boost.
Fuel fix: For serious energy, combine protein and carbs. Have low-fat cheese and crackers, hummus and baby carrots, apple slices or whole-wheat toast with peanut butter, or low-fat yogurt mixed with chopped almonds.