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Canned Energy

Drinking an extra boost

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Canned Energy

Energy drinks are being marketed as pick-me-ups, perk-ups, and wake-ups - and according to a recent report, people can't seem to get enough.

Energy drinks are being marketed as pick-me-ups, perk-ups, and wake-ups—and according to a recent report, people can’t seem to get enough.

Much of the world wakes up with a jolt of caffeine in a cup, but more and more people are choosing to get their caffeine from a can. They have a lot to choose from: there are more than 300 energy drink brands on the market.

In 2007 energy drinks reached a global market value of over $13 billion and they are expected to rule the beverage sector by the end of 2011, at a worth of $23.8 billion. 

Inside the can

Health Canada recommends that the average healthy adult consume no more than 400 mg of caffeine per day, which is about the same amount as four 8 oz (250 mL) cups of brewed coffee. Top that up with a typical energy drink containing at least 80 mg of caffeine per serving, and our total daily caffeine intake can quickly soar.

Mix of ingredients

Some energy drinks also contain taurine, an amino acid found in red meat, fish, and the bile of mammals. It’s known to be an antioxidant and to have many health benefits such as promoting the absorption of cholesterol into the bloodstream and helping to stabilize cell membranes in brain and heart tissue.

Some energy drink marketing suggests that taurine mixed with caffeine will provide an ultimate and healthy energy boost. However, there is no research to back up this claim.

Along with taurine, energy drinks often contain glucuronolactone, a naturally occurring chemical produced by the metabolism of glucose in the liver. Like taurine, it’s been touted for its antioxidant effect, but there is little research to support the claim.

Natural health product?

Some energy drinks claim to be natural health products, but as consumers, we need to read their labels carefully. Often there’s little credible research to support some of the claims being made.

Some energy drinks seem to be better than others, and there are many found at health food stores across the country. The difference between these energy drinks and the ones found at the corner store is that some are labelled organic and contain legitimate natural health extracts.

Health food store energy drinks may contain guarana extract as a source of caffeine. They may also contain echinacea and ginseng to help boost the body’s immune system and to ward off infections. Another popular ingredient is Ginkgo biloba extract which is known to increase blood flow and help with difficulties in concentration, mental fatigue, dizziness, headaches, and lack of energy.

The energy drinks available at health food stores may also contain organic fruit juice allowing them to be certified organic. Some are also Fair Trade certified, usually because they contain green tea that is grown in a manner that fairly pays farmers in developing countries and ensures good working conditions.

Sugar is as sugar does

Energy drinks may contain a high level of sugar. Depending on the size of the can, some contain more than 30 grams of sugar which may be providing as big an energy boost as the caffeine they also contain.

“If we feel an effect from energy drinks it is doubtless from the caffeine and large amounts of sugar in them—the sugar probably having even more of an impact than the caffeine because most of these beverages actually contain less caffeine than a cup of coffee,” says Charlene Chen, registered dietitian.

Reading the can

While all of these energy drinks may help stimulate an increase in energy, it’s recommended that you read the label carefully. There is no direct evidence to show that energy drinks can be harmful, yet most cans recommend drinking just one per day and note that they shouldn’t be consumed with alcohol, or by young children or pregnant women.

Of course there are many natural ways to increase your energy. One simple way is to eat balanced meals containing carbohydrates and protein every four to six hours so that the body maintains a consistent level of fuel. This approach also reduces the chances of a low blood sugar level, which is likely to occur several hours after consuming an energy drink.

Until the research proves otherwise, your best bet for maintaining good energy levels is to eat right, hydrate properly, and exercise regularly; your body will feel much more energized for considerably longer periods of time.

What’s in an energy drink?

The Good:

Ingredient What it doesAlternative food source
Niacin (vitamin B3) Helps prevent the deficiency disease pellagra (it slows metabolism and breaks down tolerance to cold)dairy products, lean meats, poultry, fish, nuts, eggs; many cereals and breads are niacin fortified
RRiboflavin (vitamin B2)Metabolizes fats, carbohydrates, and proteinsleafy green vegetables, milk, liver, kidneys, cheese, soybeans
Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)Helps to metabolize and synthesize carbohydrates, fats, and proteinswhole grain cereals, eggs, meat, legumes
Vitamin B6Aids protein and red blood cell metabolism, as well as nervous and immune system functioningbananas, potatoes, chicken, oatmeal, spinach, tuna
Vitamin B12Helps the functioning of the brain and nervous systemmeat, shellfish, milk, eggs

The bad

Ingredient What it does
CaffeineSide effects may include headaches, dizziness, diarrhea, insomnia, irritability, and nervousness
SugarIncreases blood sugar levels and the amount of insulin produced by the pancreas; high levels of sugar have been linked to obesity, diabetes, and a lack of energy

The ugly

Ingredient What it does
Nonmedicinal ingredients: artificial flavours, caramel, citric acid, glucose, sucrose, and colouringThese ingredients may not be overtly harmful to your health, but they provide no nutritional value and are commonly found in many carbonated soft drinks and energy drinks
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