Are Energy Drinks Worse Than We Thought?

Photo (cc) by Mi Planeta Personal

Energy drinks have recently come under fire for containing dangerously high levels of caffeine. The Food and Drug Administration is investigating five deaths since 2009 that may be linked to popular drink Monster Energy. One study suggests more than 13,000 people visit emergency rooms each year because of symptoms linked to energy drinks. And a Consumer Reports test revealed that some energy drinks contain twice the caffeine in a typical 8 ounce cup of coffee – per serving.

Popular brands like Red Bull, 5-hour Energy, and Monster Energy are marketing their beverages to those looking for a quick burst of energy – often at a price tag of $2 or more a pop. But what should consumers know about the estimated $8.1 billion energy drink market? Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson starts off by weighing whether these pricey drinks actually fuel you up or if they’re just a drain on your wallet.

Now, let’s talk more about energy drink concerns and ways to be a safe and cost-conscious consumer…

More on safety concerns

A Consumer Reports test turned up the following results: Energy drinks’ caffeine levels ranged from 6 milligrams to 242 milligrams per serving – with some drinks containing more than one serving. Five-hour Energy Extra Strength contained the highest level, and 5-hour Energy Decaf ranked lowest. For a look at the full chart, click here.

“By comparison, an 8-ounce cup of coffee has about 100 milligrams; a 16-ounce Starbucks Grande, 330 milligrams,” says Consumer Reports.

Caffeine consumption can be associated with adverse physical and mind-altering reactions. Symptoms can include restlessness, tremors, palpitations, nervousness, and life-threatening heart rhythm changes. People who have heart disease or high blood pressure are particularly at risk.

To add insult to injury, many energy drinks – 11 out of 27 in the Consumer Reports study – don’t list caffeine levels. Of the 16 drinks that did, five drinks – Arizona Energy, Clif Shot Turbo Energy Gel, Nestlé Jamba, Sambazon Organic Amazon Energy, and Venom Energy – had more than 20 percent above their labeled amount on average in the samples that were tested.

Extra ingredients with little energy benefit

If you’re expecting the additional ingredients in energy drinks – like vitamins, minerals, and other supplements – to take your energy up a notch, you may be disappointed.

B-vitamins are included in energy drinks’ cocktail of ingredients. With 5-hour Energy, you’ll take in an astounding 8,333 percent of the recommended dietary allowance of Vitamin B12 and 2,000 percent of Vitamin B6. The 8.3 ounce Red Bull contains 73 percent of your suggested daily dose of Vitamin B12 and 104 percent of B6.

While these doses of B-vitamins could potentially be good for your health (and even that’s a questionable claim), they’ll likely do nothing for your energy levels. The LA Times reports that there’s no research or scientific evidence to support claims that all these B-vitamins will boost your energy, and you likely get enough of these vitamins from other sources anyway.

Other ingredients don’t fare much better, according to experts’ opinions. WebMD points out that ingredients like taurine, ginseng, and guarana likely won’t give you extra energy, either.

Find cheaper and healthier alternatives

Energy drinks aren’t cheap. Popular brands, including Red Bull, 5-hour Energy, and Monster Energy, cost $2 to $4 for a single can at the convenience store.

Compared to other caffeinated options, like soda or coffee, you’re likely paying more for energy drinks. A can of soda often sells for a dollar or less, and a cup of coffee might cost 25 cents or less to brew at home.

According to Dr. Tod Cooperman, president of ConsumerLab.com, “The caffeine may give you a good pickup, but it’s not going to give you energy.”

Dr. Cooperman says to start with more sleep. Mayo Clinic recommends seven to nine hours a night for adults, so don’t skimp and rely on stimulants like caffeine instead. Squeezing in a quick 10 to 30 minute nap in the afternoon might provide revitalization to power through the rest of the workday.

Don’t forget to look to foods that provide a natural source of energy in the form of calories. EcoSalon has several food options to stave off fatigue that also make great meals and snacks throughout the day. Options include nuts, apples, blueberries, and bananas.

If you’re still looking to keep some caffeine in the mix, look to cheaper alternatives to energy drinks. Tea and soda also have some caffeine and are typically cheaper than energy drinks.

Can’t get enough? Make your own energy drink

If you can’t kick energy drinks altogether, you can make your own cheaply from home – and by knowing exactly which ingredients are thrown into the mix, you can be sure that your drink is safe.

These energy drink recipes have just a few common ingredients: water, juice, and salt. You’ll get the benefits of sodium and potassium, which help retain fluids and increase hydration, and you’ll avoid paying for energy drinks with extra ingredients you just don’t need.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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