The Truth About Energy Drinks

The bad news about energy drinks just keeps rolling in: Thanks to inconsistent labeling and an ongoing FDA review that’s not yet finished, energy drinks can contain undisclosed ingredients that haven’t been thoroughly vetted by the FDA, according to a new report released by three congressmen earlier this month.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Sens. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) surveyed the companies behind 14 popular energy drinks. They asked them about the ingredients they use, the levels of caffeine in their products, the serving sizes, the research performed to back up any claims made about the benefits, and how companies decide whether to categorize their product as a dietary supplement or conventional food (right now, the FDA lets manufacturers decide what their product should be classified as, which affects the guidelines to which they’re subjected).

The report compiled from all of the companies’ responses shows that virtually identical products can be labeled very differently—and that many of the ingredients and claims identified on the label are more concerning than they initially seem to be.

“In local convenience and grocery stores around the country, energy drinks are sold right next to soda and other well-known beverages,” Sen. Durbin said in a released statement. “Any consumer would assume that the high levels of caffeine and novel ingredients in energy drinks have been rigorously tested by the FDA to ensure safety. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case.”

The findings are pretty scary, especially considering that ER visits related to energy drinks doubled between 2007 and 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. What’s more, the FDA has received claims that link energy drinks to several deaths.

The bottom line: Before you reach for a pre-packaged pick-me-up, it’s absolutely imperative that you find out what’s actually in the can:

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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Put Down That Energy Drink!

Tempted to recharge by downing an energy drink? Look elsewhere for your “wings,” according to experts who’ve studied the effects of these beverages. There’s little evidence that energy drinks have unique performance-enhancing powers — beyond making you high on potentially harmful amounts of caffeine.

Energy drinks like Monster Energy, 5-Hour Energy, and Red Bull are already under scrutiny by the F.D.A. for their possible involvement in a slew of reported deaths and injuries. Whatever that inquiry turns up, it’s clear that the caffeine levels in these potables are dicey. “They’re unregulated, so there can be any amount of caffeine, and that varies tremendously from one brand to the next,” says Laura Juliano, PhD, an associate psychology professor at American University who studies caffeine addiction. One serving can contain as little as 50 mg of caffeine or as much as 500 mg or more, she says. But you’d have no way of knowing, since energy elixirs, unlike soda, aren’t required to list caffeine levels on their labels or to put a cap on total caffeine content. And if you don’t know how much of the drug you’re consuming, you’re at risk of misattributing its side effects – like sleeplessness, jitteriness, and anxiety – to other sources. “Too much caffeine in general can lead to a host of different types of problems,” says Juliano.

Meanwhile, several experts have spoken out about the other, more exotic components of energy drinks, citing a disconcerting lack of evidence that they have any effect on energy at all.

In a recent meta-analysis published in the journal Nutrition Reviews, researchers evaluated 32 different studies of the ingredients commonly found in energy drinks, including taurine – the much-touted chemical that supposedly gives Red Bull its turbo charge. They reported an overwhelming lack of proof that any of these additives – apart from caffeine – have an impact on physical or mental performance. Basically, caffeine seems to be the sole engine behind these drinks. “Any drink that has the equivalent caffeine will have a small boosting effect at a much lesser price,” says Robert Pettitt, PhD, an associate professor at Minnesota State University in Mankato who has studied the effects of Red Bull. More research is needed, but it appears that energy drinks may just be vehicles for high amounts of America’s Favorite Stimulant.

But don’t despair – there are still plenty of ways to beat an energy dive, says Elizabeth Somer, R.D., author of Eat Your Way to Sexy. And you don’t have to rely on a snake oil elixir to do it.

Put down the can and pick up one of these all-natural energy boosters instead.

A power breakfast
Invest early in a solid breakfast, says Somer, and the returns in mental and physical acuity will be great. “There’s nothing you can do later in the day that will give you the energy you would have had if you’d stopped and eaten breakfast,” she says. And the payoffs are manifold: “We know that people who eat a decent breakfast have more energy, think more clearly, are less prone to food cravings, and sleep better.” Just make sure your kickoff meal has three key ingredients: a whole-grain carb, a protein, and a colorful fruit or veggie. Somer recommends downing a fruit or veggie smoothie with non-fat milk or soy milk (for protein) and some wheat germ sprinkled in (for that high-quality carb). A bowl of oatmeal with non-fat milk and blueberries also does the trick.

It’s time to get on the boat (the banana boat, obviously) where this fruit is concerned. Advantages: it’s highly portable (pack one in your purse or gym bag), you don’t have to wash it, and you can eat it in the middle of a workout. A time-honored fuel source for athletes, the banana contains antioxidants, carbs, and fiber that keeps you full on very few calories. It also contains potassium, a key ingredient for sustained energy. “Low potassium will cause fatigue,” says Somer. In fact, a recent study conducted at Appalachian State University showed that chowing down on bananas was just as effective as sipping a sports drink during a workout. Somer recommends the following power pairing: bananas and almonds. “You want some protein to keep your blood sugar levels balanced out,” she says, and almonds (or any nut) will do the job.

You’ve heard its praises sung before, on points as various as preventing dementia down the road to making your hair shiny. As it turns out, preliminary research suggests that consuming this particular fish can reel you back from the edge of an energy dip. “The omega-3’s might aid in energy,” says Somer. She recommends ingesting at least 220 mg of DHA — a type of omega-3 fatty acid — per day. To get your dose, try eating smoked salmon on a bagel. For vegetarians, DHA-enriched foods like soy milk will get the job done.

It’s America’s green veggie du jour, and for good reason. In addition to being loaded with antioxidants and vitamins, kale packs a mineral wallop. “Kale is a great source of iron,” says Somer. And low iron levels can be a common cause of fatigue, particularly for women. “It’s really common for women to be low on iron,” she says, in part because the coffee and tea we drink can block iron absorption from meals. To make sure the iron from the kale gets fully absorbed by your body, chase it with a booster food. “Because the iron isn’t very well absorbed, you need to pair it with a vitamin C-rich food, like a glass of OJ,” she says. Or you can opt for a lean meat instead: “Have a little bit of meat in your spaghetti sauce, along with your sauteed kale on the side.”

It’s not the sexiest of stimulants, but staying fully hydrated can keep you functioning at optimal levels throughout the day. “Most people are walking around mildly dehydrated,” says Somer. If you’re drowsy, you may just be thirsty, since fatigue is a symptom of dehydration. Sip slowly instead of chugging down two or three glasses at once: the fluid is more likely to absorb fully when you space out your intake. And don’t obsess about the 8-glasses-a-day rule, says Somer. The amount you need varies from person to person. “Drink enough water that your urine is pale yellow,” she says. A bright yellow hue means you should up your dosage.

Pop of handful of your favorite type of nut to keep from feeling knackered. Somer swears there’s not much of a difference in what kind you choose — almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, and peanuts will all do the trick. They’re all high in healthy fat, protein, and fiber that will help regulate blood sugar levels, so you don’t crash. Just be careful about serving size: 1 oz. of nuts is plenty, since nuts are high in calories.

When you’re feeling sluggish, spring for a fruit salad that contains watermelon. It’s like pressing the restart button on your day. This magic fruit contains sugar, Potassium, Vitamin C, and Beta Carotene to inject some instant pep in your step. Plus, it’s a sneaky way to stay hydrated. “A slice of watermelon has the same amount of fluid as a glass of water,” says Somer. It also happens to be delicious.


Clearly, hitting the java works. But you should know that limiting your intake is key to reaping coffee’s invigorating benefits. “If you’re drinking caffeinated stuff all day long, you’re actually fueling your fatigue,” says Somer. That’s because you’re likely to experience a slump every time the effects of the drug wear off. “What’s been found in studies is that when people who have been relying on numerous cups of coffee all day long, cut back to three cups, they actually have more sustained energy throughout the day,” she says. Somer recommends sticking to just 1 or 2 8-oz. cups of coffee per day, ideally in the morning. “Coffee can linger in the system for up to 10-12 hours,” she says. That means that if you drink it too late, it may be messing with your sleep cycle. And you don’t want to skimp on the most important energy ingredient of all: shuteye.

Dark chocolate
As if you needed another excuse to indulge, chew on this: a dose of the dark stuff can perk you up. Chocolate contains natural caffeine, so nibbling a few pieces will keep you zipping along splendidly. Just make sure the chocolate is at least 70% dark cocoa (for the antioxidants) and avoid Dutch-processed varieties, which also lack those nourishing compounds. Because chocolate is also high in sugar, take steps to avoid a subsequent energy crash. “Have a small amount at the end of a meal rather than all by itself,” says Somer. “You’re less likely to get that blood sugar spike, and you’re less likely to overeat.” You don’t have to tell us twice.

photo: Thinkstock

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ALERT: Popular Energy Drink Linked to Five Deaths

This Monday, the FDA announced an investigation into five deaths and a heart attack allegedly tied to consumption of Monster Energy drink.

The investigation was launched after the death of a 14-year-old girl, who died of a heart attack due to caffeine toxicity after drinking two 24-ounce cans of Monster Energy, which together contain 480 milligrams of caffeine. That’s the caffeine equivalent of 14 cans of Coke.

“In moderate levels, caffeine is not harmful,” says Keri Peterson, M.D., physician on the Women’s Health advisory board. Even in not-so-moderate levels, caffeinated beverages typically aren’t deadly. Death from caffeine toxicity is rare, with toxic levels estimated to fall between 150 and 200 milligrams per kilogram of body weight—that’s about 50 cups of coffee for a 150-pound woman, consumed in a very short period of time.

But because energy drinks are considered dietary supplements, their contents aren’t currently FDA regulated.

“Many of these drinks not only have very high caffeine levels, but they also combine them with other herbs that contain caffeine such as guarana and yerba mate, which can cause significant side effects,” Peterson says.

While the FDA isn’t certain whether Monster Energy drinks were the direct cause of the reported deaths, or whether preexisting conditions, alcohol, or drugs played a role, there were more than 13,000 emergency department visits related to consumption of energy drinks in 2009—up nearly tenfold since 2005, according to a 2009 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report.

In light of this alarming stat, one thing’s for sure: it can’t hurt to be more mindful of your caffeine consumption. While your caffeine tolerance depends on your size and current consumption habits, the American Medical Association Council on Scientific Affairs recommends no more than 250 mg of caffeine, or about three 8-oz cups of coffee, a day.

And if you really want to avoid common caffeine side effects such as sleeplessness, jitters, irritability, headaches, and nervousness, Peterson recommends no more than 200 mg of caffeine a day. Top that, and you could suffer from a host of even more serious health issues: a Polish study presented by the European Society of Hypertension in 2012 found that subjects who drank an energy drink containing 360 mg of caffeine developed anxiety and insomnia, with significant increases in heart rate and blood pressure compared to a control group that took placebos, and participants who took energy drinks with just 120 mg of caffeine. (Find out more about how caffeine effects your bod.)

Another study found that consuming over 200 mg of caffeine can lead to a blood pressure spike of up to 14 points, putting you at heighten risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure, and more especially if you already have high blood pressure. For these reasons, Peterson recommends that those with high blood pressure steer clear of caffeine altogether.

Finally, check the chart below to help you put a cap on your daily intake of caffeine.


Standard serving (oz.)

Caffeine Content (mg)

Mega Monster Energy



Red Bull



5-Hour Energy






Brewed Coffee



Brewed Tea



Bottled iced tea



Soft drink


71 or less

Coffee-flavored ice cream



Dark chocolate bar



Hershey’s Chocolate Bar



Excedrin (Extra Strength)

2 tablets


NoDoz (Maximum Strength)

1 tablet


Source: Center for Science in the Public Interest

photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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2 Amazing Energy Boosting, Fiber Filled, Protein Packed Breakfasts

I will start off from the beginning letting you know that neither of these are vegan meals. In fact, these aren’t my breakfasts, they are Dan’s.

Dan might not be great at cooking dinner, but he is a master breakfast maker! We used to have pancake contest of who could make the best looking and best tasting pancake, but I hated losing so we’ve stopped. :(

Plus these take less than 10 minutes to make, so there is no excuse!

Why Breakfast, Above All Else?

Breakfast is by far my favorite meal of the day, I go to bed craving breakfast! Dan and I are the same in that we both wake up, go to the bathroom (not together) and then straight into the kitchen within 10 minutes of waking up for breakfast.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, which is why I don’t understand why only 53% of people eat it!? If you don’t eat breakfast, please let me know why?

Lets not forget that during the night your body is still working hard, even though you’re sleeping. It keeps fuel to work that hard! You know that you shouldn’t go too long without food during the day, so why would people want to go from their last meal at night until lunch without any food?

Your body is literally starving!

Other benefits of breakfast: 

  • Starts up metabolism (studies show that people who eat breakfast have an easier time losing weight and are more likely to keep it off).
  • Helps concentration (a study performed on kids showed that kids who had a balanced breakfast performed better on standardized test compared to no breakfast or sugar-filled breakfasts)
  • Improved endurance
  • Stabilizing blood sugar
  • Decreases cravings

Dan’s Mighty Breakfasts: 2 Meal Options To Start Your Day Off Right

Both of these are filled with healthy carbs and a great dose of protein and fat. All three coming together to give you a long lasting energy boost. No machine snacks for you today!

Plus they take less than 10 minutes to prepare… winner!

Hot-n-Hot Egg Sandwich

Dan uses 1 whole egg and 1 egg white for this. Wisk it together with whatever spices we have available (normally pepper, basil, rosemary) and pours it into a hot skillet.

Like an omelet he adds in diced veggies (again what ever is in the fridge), folds it in half once the eggs have begun to set, then folds it again for 1/4 triangle.

Place on a toasted Ezekiel bread, add a slice of your favorite cheese and top with the BEST sauce ever… Scotch Bonnet.

Super Vegetable Fluffy Oatmeal

I made this for Dan this past weekend when he told me he was getting a bit tired of his normal breakfast and wanted a change. Unlike me, he’s not a sweet breakfast eater, so I was determined to give him something he would love and something that would be completely new to him!

How To:
You will need two pans for this, one skillet and one small pot. Basically, I took whatever veggies I had in the fridge, diced them up and sauteed them in some coconut oil on med heat until softened. To be specific, this had bell peppers, onion and broccoli in it along with some Boar’s Head turkey meat I chopped up.

In the pot, mix together 1/2 cup of milk (I used Coconut-Almond milk); 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup old fashioned oats. Bring it to a boil, stirring regularly then reduce to a simmer and allow the liquid to get soaked up and the oatmeal to soften. When it’s almost done, 2 egg whites were whisked in along with the veggies. The whisking in of the eggs makes the oatmeal fluffy and creamy!

And that’s what it looked like! It smelt amazing and I wish the new camera could capture the smell for you! But just take my word (and Dan’s) and try it out!

  • What’s your favorite breakfast?
  • How much time do you spend making breakfast?

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Durbin asks FDA to regulate caffeine levels in energy drinks

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Durbin's letter is a reaction to the December death of a 14-year-old girl who suffered a cardiac arrhythmia that Durbin's office said was due to "caffeine toxicity after drinking two 24-ounce Monster energy drinks in a 24-hour period.
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Workers who thrive on difficult tasks lose their motivation when given stimulants such as caffeine and amphetamine, according to a study by University of British Columbia researchers. So you might want to dial back the coffee intake if you are a …
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Dr. Oz Show Today 4/17/2012: Get More Energy Almost

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