Healthy energy drinks do exist – really. The key to finding them is knowing which ingredients are good for you and which aren’t. Here’s what to know.
What Exactly Are Energy Drinks?
Most of them provide “energy” in the form of stimulants such as caffeine. They’re always sweetened.
They’ve come a long way from one of the earliest and most popular energy drinks ever developed.
It came from the New World before Columbus.
The Aztecs called it chocolatl, referring to a drink made from cacao beans.
Chocolatl was a highly prized beverage made with raw cacao, chile peppers, vanilla, maize (corn), and annatto.
It was bitter, spicy, and unsweetened. In other words, as far it could be from modern day energy drinks such as Red Bull, Monster, or Rockstar.
Yet it provided energy and other benefits.
Looking at the ingredients list of a typical energy drink these days shows a whole host of non-chocolatl ‘goodies’ that may or may not be good for you.
The leading beneficial ingredients include:
- Guaraná (another source of caffeine)
- Yerba-maté (yet another source of caffeine)
- Green tea (still one more source of caffeine)
- Amino acids (e.g., taurine)
- Vitamins (e.g., B6 and B12
- St. John’s Wort
- N-Acetyl L-tyrosine (a relatively new ingredient on the scene)
The leading harmful ingredients include:
- Sugar (and lots of it – anywhere from 27 to nearly 84 grams [7-21 teaspoons!] per drink)
- Sucralose (Splenda; artificial sweetener)
- Aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal, and Sugar Twin; artificial sweetener)
- Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K; artificial sweetener).
Other sweeteners (not so bad) include the following natural examples:
- Monkfruit (the latest natural sweetener)
With all those choices for ingredients, one thing stands out: the only option is sweetened.
And for some reason, manufacturers routinely make drinks that are far too sweet. They apparently believe America’s sweet tooth is insatiable. (And maybe it is!)
First Option: the Sweetener
Sugar is still the most common sweetener of choice.
When it comes to sugar itself, its only ‘perk’ is that it has come back into popularity over that dastardly high-fructose corn syrup that used to be in everything.
Problems arise from too much sugar, though. It is a very inefficient source of fuel, at least in comparison with fats. (No energy drinks provide fats – yet).
Over-consumption of sugar is now being blamed for an acceleration in the incidence of diabetes in the U.S.
Wbat about artificial sweeteners?
Truly healthy energy drinks should NOT contain artificial sweeteners.
They all have unwanted side effects.
Aspartame may be the worst of the worst. It is perhaps the worst sweetener ever created, as far as the damage it can do.
My old colleague, Dr. Woody Monte, has a lot to say about this junk here: While Science Sleeps.
Nasty, nasty stuff!
If you want to avoid sugar and artificial sweeteners, the best choice is Stevia.
Then comes monkfruit, followed by the sugar alcohols.
Sugar alcohols, however, have a common side effect. They can act like laxatives.
Sorbitol is the biggest culprit in this regard. Erythritol is the least problematic.
Healthy Energy Drinks
Hundreds of energy drinks have appeared in the marketplace over the past few years.
You’d have to have the label on each one in front of you it you wanted to evaluate its potential to be good for your health.
Of course, the fact that most energy drinks are full of crap. Excessive sugar or artificial sweeteners is just the beginning.
Energy drinks also typically contain some very pretty colors. Of course, they’re all synthetic. And they’re not necessarily good for you.
One in particular, Red Dye 40 might be the worst.
The challenge for you is to figure out which dyes are in your drink. It may not be obvious, since the feds have approved the label of ‘natural colors’ for many synthetic substances. (Thank the ‘food lobby’ for that bit of trickery.)
Same goes for ‘natural flavors’.
Second Option: Caffeine Content
Just like any other sources of caffeine (coffee, tea), energy drinks can provide a wide range of caffeine dosages.
There’s no general advice about how much any one person can consume. It depends on how fidgety or irritable you might get after downing some caffeine.
Individual tolerances to caffeine vary widely.
Focus on Health
Most consumers of energy drinks don’t seem to be concerned with health benefits. Just with the ‘jolt’ of energy out of them.
This is short-sighted.
Really, all you have to do is read the nutrition label and see which of the beneficial ingredients I’ve listed above might be in your drink.
And be sure to avoid sugar and artificial sweeteners.
Then you should be good to go!
Comments or Questions?
I’d love to hear from you. This and every other post here provides a comment section at the end of the post, exactly for that purpose.
So, by all means, leave me your thoughts.
I would be especially grateful if you point out any flaws in my logic, factual errors, or ordinary typos. (I’ll give you a little ‘huzzah’ in my heart.)
Then I’ll respond as soon as I can.
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All the best in natural health,
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