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Why You Should Kick Energy Drinks to the Curb

August 22, 2014

It’s a Monday afternoon, and you’re sitting at work trying to focus on a report you need to finish by the end of the day. As 2 p.m. rolls around, you’re feeling tired, sluggish and just plain exhausted. You could use a nap, you think. But instead, you head to the vending machine to buy an energy drink to help you get through the rest of the day. But have you ever wondered what exactly you’re putting into your body and if there’s a healthier way to get the energy boost you need?

Energy drink consumption has dramatically increased over the past several years, not only adding to potentially dangerous levels of caffeine, but also added sugar intake. A 2012 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners found that teens and young adults make up the largest percentage of those who buy energy drinks, accounting for nearly $2.3 billion in sales.

Caffeine and Added Sugars—A Dangerous Combination

In the United States alone, nearly 80 percent of adults consume caffeine on a daily basis. In fact, the average adult ingests about 200 milligrams of caffeine every day. While most adults may be able to tolerate this amount without any adverse effects, children and teens don’t have the same metabolism. Even just 50 milligrams of caffeine a day has the potential to cause an increased heart rate and irritability. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, caffeine and other stimulants contained in energy drinks have no place in the diet of children and adolescents.

Energy drinks that are high in added sugars also have the potential to increase your triglycerides, which are a type of fat that is found in your blood. When you eat or drink something, your body automatically converts any calories that it doesn't need into triglycerides. Too many added sugars in your diet can also increase your risk for stroke, heart attack, inflammation, obesity and other diseases.

So, what exactly does the term “added sugars” mean and how you can tell if it’s in your food or drinks? Well, simply put, added sugars refers to sugars and syrups, such as malt sugar, glucose, corn sweetener and high-fructose corn syrup, that are added to foods or beverages. These sugars are added during preparation and processing in order to increase the sweetness of a particular food or beverage. However, it is important to note that added sugars do not include the naturally occurring sugars found in whole fruits and plain dairy foods.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting the amount of added sugars you consume to no more than 100 calories per day, or 6 teaspoons, for women, and about 150 calories per day, or about 9 teaspoons, for men. So, this means it’s important to kick those energy drinks to the curb!

Healthy Energy-Boosting Alternatives

While energy drinks and caffeine might be a quick fix when you’re feeling tired, adequate hydration, sleep, activity and nutrient-rich food choices can naturally sustain your energy level throughout the day without relying on these sugar-filled beverages. So, instead of reaching for a high-calorie, sugar-laden drink the next time you’re feeling sluggish, think outside the box.

The most important thing you can do focus on your hydration. Add strawberries and basil, apples and cinnamon, or simply throw cuts of fresh or frozen fruit into plain water to enhance the flavor. These options are also perfect alternatives to sugar for drinks like unsweetened iced tea.

Coconut water and some unsweetened plant-based milks—like soy milk, almond milk, hemp milk and rice milk—can provide hydration along with protein, electrolytes and antioxidants to help you feel alert and productive throughout the day.

If you’re feeling adventurous, this oatmeal carrot cookie smoothie from Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen may be able to provide you with just the pick-me-up you’re looking for. Fresh, ground spices and real vanilla extract deliver the perfect amount of sweetness without any added sugar. This smoothie also contains rolled oats and ground flaxseeds, which are a great source of fiber. This helps to slowly release the natural sugars found in the carrot and banana while also supplying you with long-lasting energy.

Although energy drinks and sugary caffeinated beverages may give you the boost you’re looking for, they are not the best option to provide long-lasting energy. Give one of these healthy alternatives a try, and you’ll find that you have the energy you need to keep you going throughout the day.

For more information about the dangers of energy-boosting drinks, take a look at this article from LiveScience.