Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Addresses Caffeine and Energy Drinks

Energy drinks are in the news again, but it’s not for any new reason. Too much caffeine is not good for anyone, but that you already knew. With the new Dietary Guidelines proposed by the DGAC comes a renewed warning that energy drinks can be dangerous. But is the DGAC focusing on the right message? Yes, and no.

First, some background on caffeine and energy drink consumption

A massive study published in 2014 showed that 85% of the American population consumes at least one caffeinated beverage per day, but only 10% of that group gets their caffeine from energy drinks. In this study, teenagers and young adults are the biggest proportion of energy drink consumers, but still, less than 10% of tweens, teens and young adults get their caffeine from this source (about 70% get their caffeine from carbonated soft drinks). Teens who use energy drinks consume on average 60 mg caffeine per day, which is under the 100mg limit for adolescents proposed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. For age groups 6-12 and 18-24 there weren’t enough energy drink consumers to calculate intake averages, but the total amount of caffeine (from all sources) consumed by those under 18 is still under this 100mg limit. — read the rest of the recap on this massive study here: “Caffeine Consumption in the USA”

The DGAC got it right when they said…

The committee said moderate coffee consumption may be incorporated into a healthy diet, but high caffeine intake, or greater than 400 mg per day for adults, may occur with the rapid consumption of large-size energy drinks.

The D.G.A.C. recommended limited or no consumption of high caffeine drinks, or other products with high amounts of caffeine, for children and adolescents. The committee said energy drinks should not be consumed with alcohol.
—-Excerpted from the Food Business News article, “DGAC puts energy drinks back in the spotlight”

The DGAC echoes the recommendations of the First International Energy Drinks Conference at Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria, Australia. That committee recommended the following:

From "D.G.A.C. puts energy drinks back in the spotlight" by Keith Nunes
From “D.G.A.C. puts energy drinks back in the spotlight” by Keith Nunes

Lingering concerns

I fervently agree with the DGAC committee and the recommendations of the First International Energy Drinks Conference: mixing caffeine (from any source) and alcohol is a bad idea. Caffeine Informer has already summarized all the reasons why this combo is bad (see here). So let’s discuss the gray areas instead.

Many conclude that the energy drink situation is a result of regulatory failure, and that more laws and bans are the answer. Some legislators have already tried that, but as I’ve pointed out in previous posts, this strategy has a low success rate.

The problem lies in the sheer variety of products marketed as an “energy drink”. Some of these don’t even have caffeine — vitamin B12 is the most popular energy drink ingredient.  (See “Ten Things No One is Telling You About Energy Drinks”)

As I commented on the Food Business News article:

While I agree with the Key Policy Changes outlined above, it’s important to note that the top-selling energy drink is Red Bull, which features 80mg caffeine per 8oz can. the next top selling, Monster and Rockstar have not more than 240mg per can. YES, the Super-Sized cans are disconcerting, but more energy and focus (pun intended) should be placed on the combination of caffeine and alcohol than on demonizing a particular brand. Furthermore, when popular coffee drinks include more caffeine than popular energy drinks, an energy drink ban for minors seems illogical. Too much caffeine is too much, regardless of whether it comes in a cup, mug or can.



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Why Pure Caffeine SHOULD BE Banned

According to an article by Nutritional Outlook, six senators are urging the FDA to immediately ban the marketing and retail sale of pure caffeine. This is the FIRST caffeine regulation I can really get behind, and here’s why:

This proposal addresses a legitimate safety issue; unlike some of the proposed energy drink bans, regulations to ban the sale of pure caffeine are a necessary step toward ensuring safe caffeine consumption.

Now, before you jump up and down with all the reasons you think energy drink bans are good, let me just say this: V8 V-Fusion has 80 mg of caffeine from green tea. This is an energy drink, but would you have a problem letting a 12 year old drink it? V8’s energy drink has the same amount of caffeine as an 8 ounce Red Bull, but they both that LESS CAFFEINE (and potentially less sugar) than a tall mocha from Starbucks.

The rest of my arguments against energy drink regulations can be found here (“Why You Could Get Carded for Buying a V8“), here (“NY Bans Marketing of Red Bull but Misses the Bull’s Eye“),  and here (“Save Lives by Focusing on the Source of the Problem“).

Senator Blumenthal (D-CT) is one of the six senators proposing this pure caffeine ban, and I have NOT been a fan of his other caffeine regulation proposals (see “Which comes first: supplement safety laws or the power to enforce them? The Durbin-Blumenthal Dietary Supplement Labeling Act“).

But for this one time, I will stand with the Senator and support this pure caffeine ban.

Perhaps the best argument FOR this proposed ban on pure caffeine sales is the following stat:

A single teaspoon of pure caffeine is roughly the same amount of caffeine as 25 cups of coffee, according to FDA.


No consumer needs pure caffeine. If you’re buying pure caffeine to make your own energy drinks in your basement so you can sell them online, I am not okay with that. As a food scientist quality assurance professional, and caffeine consumer, everything about that situation scares me.

Dear FDA, I know you’re under-staffed, under-appreciated and over-worked, and I know you’ve got your hands full with the necessary FSMA regulations. But can you do us all a favor and please, please, do something (swift) about this request. It’ll make Mr. Richard Blumenthal (and Mr. Sherrod Brown) very happy.


Related Posts:

Putting Caffeine in Gum is a BAD IDEA, here’s why…

Friends with the Monster? Three Crucial Counterpoints to the Energy Drink Debate