Are energy drinks a good thing? As with just about anything that makes you feel good, there’s always the question of whether or not it can become addictive. While there are plenty of health benefits that come from drinking energy drinks, they also have a long list of possible risks that need to be considered if drinking in large amounts.
That being the case, let’s go over what exactly energy drinks are, whether or not energy drinks can be addictive and if you should be concerned about that at all.
What Are Energy Drinks?
Although there are plenty of brands out there that label themselves as an energy drink, we need to come up with a definition that will help us identify whether or not they have that label on the can. Essentially, energy drinks or a canned or bottled beverage (usually, though not always carbonated) that contain ingredients that will — well — give you energy! These generally include the following ingredients:
- Vitamins (generally B vitamins)
- Non-essential energy supplements (such as taurine or L-Carnitine)
The average energy drink has about 85 milligrams of caffeine per eight-ounce serving. Since the average can has 16 ounces, we can say that you can expect but 190 milligrams per drink. While there has been concern about there being too much caffeine and energy drinks, the fact is that this is actually a little bit less than what you would find in the same amount of coffee. For reference, the FDA recommends consuming no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine per day.
Sugar obviously is a source of energy and also makes the drink tastes better. After all, if you were to consume all of these ingredients without some sort of sweetener, you would probably just taste like chewing on a multivitamin. However, energy drinks are known to contain large amounts of sugar, Containing about 52 grams per can.
That being said, sugar-free options have been around for as long as we’ve had energy drinks, with some brands coming out with the completely sugar-free lineup. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re healthy, as some sugar substitutes have their own list of negative health effects, though it won’t be a concern for those trying to watch their blood sugar and many brands are using healthier sweeteners to boot.
Another way that energy drinks promote themselves is by being a healthy source of necessary nutrients, such as B vitamins. Getting your vitamins is definitely something that we all have to do just to survive, and higher levels of some vitamins do lead to increased health. However, it’s safe to say that there are plenty of healthier ways to get your B vitamins than to be drinking them out of a can.
Non-essential Energy Supplements
The reason that we use the word “non-essential” here is not to mean having no effect. Rather, it just means that these are not things needed to survive, such as vitamins. Some common supplements found in energy drinks, such as L-carnitine, are actually produced by the human body in smaller amounts and the idea is that by consuming more of it, you’ll have greater results when looking for more energy.
Some of the other commonly used supplements and energy drinks, such as taurine and guarana seed extract, are added as ways to increase energy along with the caffeine and vitamins. The only problem here is that with any type of supplement added beyond caffeine and vitamins, nothing has been evaluated by the FDA. It’s possible that these supplements do help with energy and there’s even some evidence to suggest that, but the problem is that we don’t know what sort of dosage is healthy or what effects they can have on the body when combined with other substances, such as caffeine.
Pros and Cons of Energy Drinks
Just like with many types of foods, there is nothing inherently good or bad about energy drinks. In reality, it depends on how often you’re drinking them, where your purpose is behind drinking them and what your current health is like.
For instance, energy drinks are great for people who want to get a sustained boost of energy to get them through the day or two use them before a strenuous event, such as rock climbing or rafting. In fact, it’s not at all unusual to see energy drink companies sponsoring extreme sports or events that will typically attract young and healthy people to buy their products.
On the other hand, people who have underlying health conditions, especially those who may have cardiac issues and a history of heart attack or high blood pressure, may want to avoid energy drinks. After all, the point of these drinks is to give you energy by making your heart race and if your ticker isn’t in great condition, to begin with, that can only spell trouble for you. Also, some of the supplements that they use may interact with certain types of medications, so you want to keep that in mind before consuming it.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, Another major issue you have to worry about is that of children consuming energy drinks. This is especially compounded by the fact that marketing for energy drinks tends to be more attractive to a younger audience. But not only do children have to worry about consuming too much caffeine and sugar, but they may not have the self-control that an adult may have or depending on their age, may be consuming way too much for their developing bodies.
Essentially, there are two categories of foods with B vitamins.
But even above and beyond the risks of consuming energy drinks in the short term is that of addiction. But what exactly is energy drink addiction and how does it compare to other types of addictions that were more aware of? How can you tell if you or a loved one might be addicted to energy drinks? What are the long-term effects of regular use of energy drinks?
Are You an Energy Drink Addict?
When we think of addiction, we might think of Drugs or alcohol or maybe even certain types of foods like chocolate. This makes sense when we think about what addiction actually is. Essentially, addiction is when your body becomes excited or accustomed to a particular taste or feeling, and when that taste or feeling goes away, it reacts in such a way as to make you demand that you get that source of feeling or flavor again.
Just like with fast food, energy drinks are designed to take all the boxes when it comes to addiction. They taste good (usually) and give us a feeling of energy and euphoria. But there are a few problems that come with consuming energy drinks on a regular basis.
First of all, having an excess of sugar and caffeine in our diets is never a good thing. Which started out as something to quench your thirst and give you a little bit of extra boost in your day could end up having serious consequences to your cardiovascular system or even your pancreas. Downing a few energy drinks per day will literally add thousands of extra grams of sugar to your diet every week.
For some people, this may result in heart issues where none existed before. For example, let’s say that you’re used to drinking 8 to 10 beverages per day of any sort. If you start to use energy drinks on a regular basis, you may not realize just how much caffeine and sugar you’re actually consuming. Previously, it may have been nothing for you to have that much in soda or other types of drinks, but now you have the possibility of going well over your daily limit of caffeine which can cause heart palpitations, high blood pressure and even burst blood vessels, just to name a few issues.
Assuming that you are using the normal versions of these drinks that contain large amounts of sugar, that sugar itself is also going to become a major issue. Of course, we know that there is the possibility of weight gain as well as diabetes, but there are also other issues to consider, such as tooth decay. Speaking of tooth decay, even if you opt for sugar-free options, you’re still going to find that the acid in these drinks is going to strip away the enamel from your teeth and cause possible issues with your digestive tract, such as acid reflux. In addition, while artificial sweeteners may not cause the same issues with weight gain and diabetes, there is plenty of things to suggest to whoever just that they can cause you to overeat and possibly cause damage to the bacteria that live in your gut.
The other issue is that of addiction itself. When you start drinking energy drinks, is probably so that you can feel a boost of energy. But the problem is that if you consume energy drinks every day, you no longer drink them to feel a boost of energy. You drink them just to feel normal because your body becomes accustomed to it and even can give you negative symptoms (such as headaches) if you don’t get your fix.
But what are some of the signs of energy drink addiction?
- Strong cravings for energy drinks when you haven’t consumed one
- Headaches or irritability when you haven’t had any
- Inability to control how many you consume on any given day
Alternatives to Energy Drinks
For somebody who possibly wants to break the habit of drinking energy drinks, what can you do? Instead of merely just saying, “OK, I’m going to stop drinking energy drinks now,” you need to find something to meet the needs that these energy drinks were filling.
For example, if you’re drinking them because you’re thirsty, then there’s plenty of other options out there available for that! some examples of things that you can substitute for that simple need could be any of the following:
- Soda with lower levels of caffeine
- Sparkling water (flavored or plain)
Remember that the main reason that you get thirsty is because your body needs water. While you can use a variety of liquid’s to fulfill that need, there’s really no substitute for good ol’ H20. not only will you be able to quench your thirst, but you’ll be doing it in such a way that you won’t have to worry about any side effects. If the idea of drinking plain water is not appealing to you, then think about adding some sort of flavoring. You can buy plenty of water flavoring products out there on the market, but try to keep it simple and natural with something like a splash of juice or a wedge of lemon.
One thing that scares people away from leaving energy drinks is that they feel that they can’t get that boost from downing a couple of cans. Caffeine in and of itself is not a bad thing and is considered to be healthy within moderation. If all you’re worried about is losing that boost, there are plenty of readily available options out there that you can substitute for energy drinks. These can include:
- Tea (white, green, oolong or black since herbal teas do not contain caffeine)
- Soda (diet or regular)
- Other drinks with added caffeine
Just like with the previously mentioned replacement for hydration, try not to replace one bad thing for another. That’s to say, don’t just start pounding a bunch of colas in place of those energy drinks. One of the great things about replacing energy drinks with coffee or tea is that in addition to having more controllable effects, they often are great source of other health benefits. For example, the antioxidants in coffee are excellent for the brain and liver, while those found in tea can help with weight loss, general oxidation in the body and possibly even cancer prevention.
As far as the other types of energy supplements you find in energy drinks, those are things that you can either get into a healthy diet or simply take a capsule or pill. For example, if you want to up the levels of vitamin B that you would normally get from these energy drinks, consider some of the following foods.
- Red meat
- Beans and other legumes
- Dairy products
- Fortified foods (such as breakfast cereal)
As far as the other supplements, such as taurine and L-carnitine, you can always get those in Pills, capsules or other common dietary supplements. One of the benefits is that if these do have any benefit, you’re probably not going to see any results in the relatively low amounts that you’d find in these energy drinks anyway. Most studies that show any sort of benefits have subjects that use 5 to 10 times the amount you would typically find in your average energy drink.
At the end of the day, what you put in your body is your business. But before you decide whether or not to use energy drinks personally, just remember that moderation is the key in life. If you can enjoy a can every once and a while, you probably don’t have much to worry about. Just make sure not to make it a habit and feel free to get that tasty boost — just not too much!