Energy drinks are a spectrum. While there are some that look exactly like the stereotypical energy drinks from the early 2000s, there are a growing number which look nothing like their forefathers. Every month I try to highlight an energy drink which doesn’t fit the stereotype. This month, we’ll review the science behind a drink which could be considered an energy drink, a pre-workout, maybe even a tea. Read more
As a biochemist who researches energy drinks, I get asked all the time why people need energy drinks and why people can’t just drink coffee instead. There’s no easy way to answer these questions, but it helps if we look at the products which blur the lines between “coffee” and “energy drink”. Read more
Here’s a recap of the quick reviews posted this month for the “Science of Energy Drinks” series on the GreenEyedGuide Instagram and Facebook pages: Bai Sparkling Antioxidant Infusion, Cocaine Energy, and Monster Ultra Violet.
Excessive caffeine led to the death of a 16-year old in South Carolina named Davis Allen Cripe. As a biochemist studying energy drinks, I share my understanding of what happened and what caffeine research tells us about caffeine and heart issues.
Contents (click to jump):
- Caffeine Consumed From All Sources
- Where the News Outlets are Getting It Right
- The Study I Can’t Stand that News Outlets Keep Citing
- Caffeine and Arrhythmias and the American Heart Association 2017 Study
- Bottom Line
Sometimes we just want life to be simple. In high school, life was not simple, but at least my schedule was predictable. Each hour was dedicated to a specific subject; a chiming bell was enough to break my To Do list into neat little blocks of time. With graduation season upon us, many will leave their predictable schedules and somewhat-organized world for the unpredictable chaos that comes with adulthood. As a tribute to that unavoidable complexity, this month we review (yet another) energy drink with clean, simple ingredients. If you’re familiar with my mission on GreenEyedGuide.com, you know I love nothing more than busting the energy drink stereotype.
This month’s pick is another “energy drink in disguise” that doesn’t fit the water, juice, tea, or soda category. With 120 milligrams of caffeine per can, it’s undeniably an energy drink but also undoubtedly not “a deadly concoction of caffeine and sugar”.
The Energy Drink of the Month for May 2017 is Zevia Zero Calorie Energy.
At the time of this post, there were four flavors available: Grapefruit, Kola, Mango/Ginger, and Raspberry/Lime. They all have 120 milligrams of caffeine per can, zero Calories, zero grams of sugar, zero vitamins, zero preservatives (not counting the acids), and nearly identical ingredient lists. As you might’ve guessed from our other Energy Drink of the Month winners, I’m a berry person, so my favorite is Raspberry/Lime.
We’ve talked about carbonation many times before, so here’s some refreshing (pun!) insight from Popular Science’s article on why humans like fizzy drinks
“Chemically, adding CO2 to water creates carbonic acid, which is tasted by sour-sensing taste cells. Research has suggested that a certain enzyme, carbonic anhydrase, sits on those cells and reacts with the acid to cause carbonated water’s familiar popping sensation. (Fun fact: climbers who take altitude-sickness drugs that block the enzyme, then drink champagne, report the bubbly as having a dishwater-y taste.”
Citric Acid and Tartaric Acid
The Kola flavored Zevia Zero Calorie Energy has tartaric acid and citric acid, whereas the other three just have citric acid. This excellent infographic from our friends at Compound Interest explains the science behind these two popular acids.
Stevia Leaf Extract
Finding a high-quality stevia extract is no simple task. Oh sure, we know what molecule is responsible for the sweetness, but isolating that molecule and delivering it is far more complicated than producing table sugar. Sugar is sugar is sugar, right? But water doesn’t always taste the same, even if it’s just water. The same goes for Stevia. In fact, tasting Stevia samples was one of the tasks I dreaded most while I worked as a product developer for a major supplement company. One bad sample, and you’d be experiencing a bitter metallic aftertaste the rest of the day (or week: See “A Food Science Horror Story”).
It turns out that some people are Stevia Super Tasters so they will get a bitter metallic aftertaste with Stevia when many others would taste only sweetness. This bitter metallic aftertaste is why stevia is often paired with another natural sweetener, erythritol.
The top three best-selling energy drink brands are Red Bull (80 mg caffeine per 8 oz can; 114 mg caffeine per 12 oz can), Monster Energy (160 mg caffeine per 16 oz can), and Rockstar Energy (240 mg caffeine per can, most flavors). Since Zevia Zero Calorie Energy is an “energy drink in disguise” that breaks the energy drink stereotype, it makes more sense to compare its caffeine content to similar products, other healthy alternatives. Below are the caffeine contents listed in the Caffeine Informer database:
When to Consume = Fatigue Level 3
When it comes to caffeine content, 200 and 400 are special numbers. Quoting from the “Scientific Opinion on the safety of caffeine” from the European Food Safety Authority:
“Following a request from the European Commission, the EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies was asked to deliver a scientific opinion on the safety of caffeine, providing advice on caffeine intakes, from all dietary sources that do not give rise to concerns about adverse health effects for the general healthy population and subgroups thereof. Possible interactions between caffeine and other constituents of so-called “energy drinks”, alcohol, p-synephrine and physical exercise should also be addressed. Single doses of caffeine up to 200 mg (about 3 mg/kg bw for a 70-kg adult) do not give rise to safety concerns. The same amount does not give rise to safety concerns when consumed < 2 hours prior to intense physical exercise under normal environmental conditions. … Habitual caffeine consumption up to 400 mg per day does not give rise to safety concerns for non-pregnant adults…”
The 5 Levels of Fatigue is a system I developed during my years of researching energy drinks. The 5 Levels of Fatigue helps people find the product most appropriate for how tired they are, thus minimizing caffeine dependence, toxicity, and tolerance. Anything with more than 200 milligrams caffeine should be saved for more dire energy emergencies like Fatigue Level 4. A product with 100-200 mg caffeine belongs with Fatigue Level 3. Since this product has 125 milligrams of caffeine per can, this product fits Fatigue Level 3. It is a carbonated product, which usually means the caffeine would feel stronger than a non-carbonated equivalent like the caffeinated (still) water from Avitae due to carbonation’s effects on the stomach.
If you are looking for a strong, sugar-free, artificial-free carbonated energy drink Zevia is a great option. You don’t have to fret about “the dangerous of energy drinks” with this product. Zevia Zero Calorie Energy is simple. Life is complex enough.
Review the entire ENERGY DRINK OF THE MONTH SERIES
- Get your copy of MY BOOK: “Are You a Monster or a Rock Star: A Guide to Energy Drinks — How They Work, Why They Work, How to Use Them Safely”
- HELP ME TURN MY BOOK INTO AN AUDIO BOOK – SUPPORT ME ON PATREON
- Explore the CAFFEINE INFORMER database
- Need help with quitting caffeine? I HIGHLY recommend this guide: Awake: How to Quit from Caffeine for Good