Jamie Pronschinske, RDN, CD
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The buzz on energy drinks
About 90% of all adults consume caffeine every day, making it the most common stimulant in the world. Coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks or "energy shots," and over-the-counter supplements are widely available sources of caffeine.
Total energy drink sales globally reached $57 billion in 2020. Energy drinks are the second most popular dietary supplement among U.S. teens and young adults behind multivitamins.
Most energy drinks contain 100–300 milligrams of caffeine per serving, although amounts can vary. Up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day is considered safe for most adults.
People who are pregnant or breastfeeding should limit their intake to 200 milligrams or less per day. The Food and Drug Administration has not set a safe level for children, but the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the consumption of caffeine and other stimulants by children and adolescents.
Caffeine's health effects vary from person to person and depend on the dose. Caffeine has been shown to improve vigilance, reaction time, alertness and ability to concentrate. It can help alleviate the adverse effects of sleep deprivation. Its intake is associated with a reduced risk of Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, alcoholic cirrhosis and gout.
However, caffeine intake also is associated with nervousness, insomnia, irritability and panic attacks. Those with preexisting anxiety disorders may be more susceptible to these effects.
Excessive caffeine intake, such as more than 400 milligrams per day, can cause palpitations, tremors, agitation and gastrointestinal upset. Heavy caffeine use also is associated with an increased risk of other addictive behaviors, like smoking and alcohol abuse. People who routinely consume caffeine may develop physical and psychological dependence and may experience withdrawal symptoms if intake is abruptly stopped. Energy drinks can contain significant amounts of added sugar or other sweeteners.
Because high intake of added sugar can contribute to health problems, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting intake of added sugars to no more than 10% of total daily calories. For example, in a 2,000-calorie diet, no more than 200 calories should come from added sugars. This is about 12 teaspoons a day.
One 16-ounce can of Monster Energy Juice Pacific Punch supplies 210 calories and 47 grams of added sugar, which is equal to roughly 12 teaspoons. This is an entire day's worth of added sugar.
Energy drinks may contain vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Some may contain herbal supplements, such as ginseng and guarana, which may be used to increase energy and mental alertness. Use caution with these substances, as research on safety and effectiveness is limited. Also, some herbal supplements can interact with prescriptions, so seek input from your health care professional before consuming.
If you'd like a new way to get your caffeine fix, try one of these recipes:
PEACH ICED TEA
2 ripe peaches, pitted and cut into chunks
½ cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, plus more for garnish
6 black tea bags
6 cups boiling water
Ice for serving
Place peaches and mint in the bottom of a large heatproof pitcher. Muddle with a wooden spoon until the peaches are pulpy and broken down. Hang tea bags in the pitcher and pour in boiling water. Let steep for at least 20 minutes. Remove the tea bags. Refrigerate the tea until cold. Fill glasses generously with ice. Strain the tea and pour over the ice. Garnish with mint if desired.
Nutrition information per serving: 14 calories; 0 g fat (0 g saturated fat); 6 mg sodium; 3 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 1 g protein; 47 mg caffeine.
1 cup double-strength coffee or espresso (See tip below.)
1 cup low-fat milk
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, not Dutch-processed
2–3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
⅛ teaspoon vanilla extract
1–2 ice cubes, if needed
Freeze coffee in an ice cube tray until firm, at least 4 hours or overnight. Combine the frozen coffee cubes, milk, cocoa, maple syrup and vanilla in a blender. Pulse until smooth, adding plain ice cubes if you want it thicker. Divide between 2 glasses. Dust with a little cocoa powder, if desired. Serve immediately.
Tip: Double-strength coffee or espresso gives you the best coffee flavor when making blended or iced coffee drinks. To brew double-strength coffee, use twice the amount of grounds as you normally would for a regular cup of coffee. Espresso is strong enough when brewed regularly.
Nutrition information per serving: 127 calories; 2 g fat (1 g saturated fat); 74 mg sodium; 25 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 5 g protein; 250 mg caffeine
Jamie Pronschinske, is a dietitian in La Crosse, Wisconsin.