In this three-part series, we’ll talk about whether energy drink bans are good or bad, what has been tried in the US, and the bans or restrictions in other countries.
PART ONE – Are Energy Drink Bans Good or Bad? Are They Effective?
In PART ONE of this three-part series, we’ll talk about energy drinks bans in general. Why do people want to ban energy drinks? How does an energy drink ban work? What drinks does it include and why? Read more →
Energy drinks do not belong in the diet of a five-year-old. You already knew that. But do you know what happens when children do have energy drinks? Thanks to research by Durham University in the UK, we now have a good idea how many kids and teens in different countries drink energy drinks and how those drinks affect their health.
*Note – the research paper by Durham University uses the expression “children and young people” to refer to those under 18. At the age of 33, I still consider myself a “young person”, so I’m going to use the expression “kids and teens” instead.Read more →
In this article I wrote for ScienceMeetsFood.org, I address the problem behind the term “energy drink” and the science behind energy drinks in disguise. (There’s also a Guardians of the Galaxy metaphor!) It’s a great primer if you’ve never heard the term “energy drink in disguise”, or if you never realized that V8 and Ocean Spray make energy drinks. Read this article in its entirety at ScienceMeetsFood.org
“I’ve been studying energy drinks since 2003 and they continue to both fascinate and horrify me. They fascinate me because I’m a biochemistry major, or maybe it’s the other way around. Energy drinks are the reason I pursued my masters in food science (and the reason I survived grad school). Metabolic biochemistry is the closest I’ll ever come to engineering – for me, studying biochemistry is studying the secret rules to how things work.
Energy drinks horrify me because it feels like people with no science background are behind some of the products you can buy online. Sometimes I’ll read a label and think, “What are they doing? Who thought this was a good idea?” The most concerning aspect of energy drinks is we don’t have a proper nomenclature to classify them properly. (#WhatWouldIUPACDo?) Using the term “energy drink” the way we do is like calling pure ethanol “booze”. Let’s talk about why the lack of classification is a problem.
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: Uptime Energy, Bawls Guarana, Amp Energy Zero, and V8 + Energy.
Science Behind Uptime Energy drink: 3-Ingredients to Focus on:
⛾1-Angelica Root Ext (aka Danggui) is used for female reproductive disorders in Traditional Chinese Medicine. After 15 minutes on Pubmed & SciDirect I DON’T KNOW WHY it’s in here. (Dear science nerds, please help if you do).
⛾2-Bee Pollen has vitamins, polyphenols, and enzymes, and has shown health benefits in studies but ONLY WHEN USED IN GRAM AMOUNTS! This product’s whole “Power Base” combined is only 20% of a gram. [1 gram = weight of 1 paperclip].
⛾3-Caffeine is the only ingredient that (kind of) “produces energy” but this bugs me. (#stickler #rant #chemnerd) There’s 142 mg caffeine in here = ALMOST a Monster (160mg).
LET’S TALK ABOUT GUARANA. BAWLS Ingredients include caffeine, HFCS, citric acid, sodium benzoate, natural AND artificial flavor, caramel color. No B-vitamins, taurine, carnitine, or other stereotypical energy drink ingredients.
CAFFEINE CONTENT: from guarana and pure caffeine; 100mg Caffeine per can from all sources, according to the CAFFEINE INFORMER database. That’s LESS caffeine than 12 oz Red Bull (114 mg). The limit for those under 18yrs old is 100mg.
GUARANA is a vine from the rainforest bearing orange-red fruit with black seeds. Caffeine is in the seeds. Multiple studies show guarana improves cognitive performance, mental fatigue, and mood, and it is supposed to boost fat metabolism by encouraging the body to burn fat instead of protein and carbs. HOWEVER, the same benefits are true of caffeine in general and caffeine from green tea in particular. So these benefits are not specific to guarana… and this product gives you 50g sugar per can.
PART ONE: WHAT DOES EDTA DO?
EDTA, Sodium benzoate, and Sodium hexametaphosphate: All 3 are in this drink. Does a canned drink need so much preservation?
1. EDTA: the ingredient statement says “to protect flavor”…from WHAT? From metal ions of the can, which can oxidize and degrade the natural+artificial flavor and the B-vitamins.
PURPOSE: Chelating agent, meaning it binds metal ions to limit their deleterious effects; EDTA stabilizes food color, aroma, texture, inhibits oxidation of fats, oils.
SAFETY NOTES: Some sources say EDTA “robs the body of nutrients” but EDTA is safe to consume **up to 3 grams per day **and AMOUNTS USED IN FOOD are in the milligram per kilogram or parts-per-million range. CPSI puts this in the “Safe” column.
***FUN FACT: EDTA is actually used to treat people with heavy metal poisoning because EDTA can grab the heavy metals and escort them out of the body.
PART 2 of Amp Preservative review: WHAT does Sodium benzoate do?
Sodium Benzoate: “preserves freshness”… but it’s not like this is a fresh ripe watermelon right? Well, this IS an acidic drink…
PURPOSE: Prevents growth of microorganisms like yeast and mold; used for preservation of sour food pH 4 and lower, often used with other preservatives especially at low pH (meaning acidic food).
SAFETY NOTES: Consumers can ingest up to 5mg per kg of body weight of benzoic acid and its salts
***FUN FACT: Benzoic acid occurs naturally in cranberries, prunes, plums, cinnamon, ripe cloves, and most berries. http://wp.me/p3SHzu-It
PART 3 of AMP preservative review: “Hexa-meta-huh?”
3. Sodium hexametaphosphate: “to protect flavor”… YOU’D THINK AMP’S FLAVOR IS LIKE GOLD with all this PROTECTION!!!
SAFETY NOTES: This ingredient is widely accepted as safe in many countries. It has the additive number E452. In controlled studies, it was not carcinogenic in rats, nor did it cause any reproductive or developmental toxicity symptoms. It’s fine if you consume a little bit every now and then, but consuming it regularly can have some negative effects due to mineral imbalances. MODERATION IS KEY!
Energy drinks are dangerous, right? V8 Energy, busting stereotypes since 2011! The caffeine in V8 Energy comes from green tea extract which provides a natural lift as well as the amino acid L-theanine which is believed to provide added focus. [CaffeineInformer.com] 🔹️L-theanine can reduce anxiety and blood pressure increases in high-stress individuals (ie people more susceptible to biological changes when stressed) 🔹️This can contains 80 mg caffeine (as much as Red Bull) BUT… 🔹️ the Academy of Pediatrics says people <18 can have UP TO 100 mg caffeine per day. 🔹️With 34% juice, only 11 grams of sugar, and caffeine from green tea extract, this is one of the BEST healthy alternatives! 🔹️See V8 Energy Drink of the Month http://bit.ly/2p5yykZ
How concerned do parents need to be about kids and energy drinks?
So your teenager wants to drink Red Bull…what do you do? What do you tell your kids about energy drinks, and how alarmed should you be, really? Don’t let the headlines fool you, the use of energy drinks in kids and teens is NOT as dire as it seems. But that doesn’t mean everything is fine, either.
In the GreenEyedGuide guest blog on The Scientific Parent, we review the three major details parents need to know about kids and energy drinks. These details are almost always left out of energy drink conversations but they can make a huge difference when it comes to keeping your kids healthy and safe.
[Editor’s Note – The Scientific Parent site is no longer operational, but it’s been updated and republished for you here, on the GreenEyedGuide blog]
It appears so often in the news, “Energy Drink Consumption on the Rise in Kids, Teens.” Alarming headlines like this are a response to a study which measured caffeine consumption in minors over a ten year period. That study, published in Pediatrics in February 2014[i], shows how caffeine habits changed from 1999 to 2010. Unfortunately, this is just one of the latest examples of how the wrong details are emphasized in energy drink news stories, even in publications as reputable as Time magazine[ii].
There are three major details often left out of conversations on kids and energy drinks, but these tiny details could dramatically boost our efforts to keep ourselves and our kids healthy and safe.
Don’t Let the Headlines Fool You – The Situation with Kids and Energy Drinks is NOT As Bad as It Seems
Taking a closer look at the Pediatrics study, it’s not surprising energy drink consumption among minors has increased since 1999 – Monster Energy and Rockstar didn’t exist back then! What is surprising is how the total amount of caffeine consumed per day didn’t change after the energy drink boom.
The kids of 2010 were getting the same amount of caffeine per day as the kids of 1999, they were just getting it from different places.
Of all the caffeine consumers under 18, less than 10% get their caffeine from energy drinks. That statistic may seem low, especially considering all the negative press energy drinks have received and all the scrutiny energy drink companies are facing for whether or not they target minors. However, this statistic comes from the study in Pediatrics as well as a more comprehensive study by Penn State published in Food and Chemical Toxicology[iii].
The Penn State study included over 40,000 participants, selected so the demographics of the study match that of the US population, thus the data reflects the nation’s caffeine habits.
The data indicates 85% of the US population consumes at least one caffeinated beverage a day. Carbonated soft drinks contribute the most caffeine to the daily diet from age 2 to 17, at which point coffee becomes the number one source of caffeine.
This study confirmed:
~10% of teens get their caffeine from energy drinks
~70% from each age group get their caffeine from carbonated soft drinks
The American Academy of Pediatrics[iv] says those < 18 years old should not have more than 100 mg caffeine
Teens who do use energy drinks consume ~60 mg caffeine per day, which is less than the 100 mg limit
For kids and teens, the total amount of caffeine (from all sources) is less than 100 mg caffeine
Energy Drink Bans Don’t Address All The Places Kids Get Caffeine
Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar are the three best-selling energy drinks, but there are now over 500 different energy drinks on the US market. The most common ingredient is not caffeine, it’s vitamin B-12[v]. As more consumers demand clean labels and natural forms of caffeine (think green tea and goji berries), it’s getting harder to tell the difference between energy drinks and functional/wellness beverages.
These blurred lines also make it harder to say “no” to energy drinks. Would you get mad if your kid brought home a V8 V-Fusion? How about a Red Bull? Surprise – Red Bull and V-Fusion + Energy both have 80 milligrams of caffeine per 8–ounce can[vi]. Should we ban them both? What about coffee? A Grande coffee from Starbucks has more caffeine than a whole 16 ounce can of Monster Energy[vii]. Any bans on energy drinks are doomed to fail with the coffee-energy drink double standard and the blurred lines between beverage categories.
Health Canada’s brilliant solution to these blurred lines was to reclassify any and all caffeine-containing products as “food” and cap the amount of permitted caffeine from all sources at 180 milligrams per 8 ounces, or 400 milligrams per liter[viii]. Stealing a page from Health Canada’s playbook could help us close the loopholes of potential energy drink bans, and might even help us control the amount of caffeine added to food like chips, gum, and jelly beans.
Ingredient Information and Dosage Details Make All the Difference
Most information on energy drink ingredients is either over-simplified (“vitamin B6 gives the body energy”) or too scientific (“thiamin becomes the coenzyme thiamin pyrophosphate and…”). To make smarter decisions about whether an energy drink is safe or not, we need to understand what key ingredients do. But understanding their function is not enough, we also need to ask about the dosage.
Paracelsus, the “Father of Toxicology”, proclaimed the difference between poison and medicine is the dosage. Too much vitamin B6 can damage the nerves. Taurine is an ingredient most people associate with energy drinks (and the myth about bull sperm). In fact, taurine helps balance the levels of calcium inside the heart muscle cells, which is why it’s a common treatment for congestive heart failure[ix].
As consumers, we need to be proactive about finding the amounts of the ingredients in our caffeinated beverages.
A canned coffee drink with “Organic” and “All-Natural” may seem healthy, but it’s not a good choice if it has 60 grams of sugar.
An all-natural energy drink with only 5 ingredients is still not a good option if the caffeine amount is more than 200 mg.
When someone is hospitalized due to caffeine or energy drinks, it’s critical to know the amounts of the other ingredients so scientists can better understand whether it’s just the caffeine or some ingredient interaction which made the person ill.
As a community, we can truly improve our health and keep our kids safe from caffeine toxicity when we pay attention to these details. It’s misleading to say, “Energy drinks are dangerous; avoid them all.” With this blanket statement, we are ignoring the question our kids want to know the most: WHY. By focusing on these three important but often overlooked details, we teach ourselves and our kids the tools for making informed choices and can skip or sip caffeine, safely.