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The Good, Bad and Ugly of Energy Drinks

If coffee is the best way to start your day, an energy drink is the physical and mental stimulant that can get you through the day – whether you just need a pick-me-up or are cramming to complete a project for work. In the billion dollar energy drinks market, the choice is vast and the shiny cans of liquid goodness beckon you away from fizzy drinks and fruit juices. Modern lifestyles and the ‘work harder, sleep less’ culture demand caffeine. If you’re not juicing up on veggies, you’re probably swigging a Red Bull or a 5 Hour– that’s the new normal.

But is this a new normal we should be encouraging? Are energy drinks really all that? Let’s scrutinize them and leave it to you to make the decision.

A quick energy boost is always welcomeThere are up to 25 grams of carbohydrates (100 calories) per 8 ounces of energy drink. For athletes and work-out enthusiasts, carbs replenish energy expended during strenuous physical activity, assisting with recovery and performance. Energy drinks with over 400 milligrams of sodium per liter replace electrolytes lost during intense workouts, hydrating and refreshing you.

Some energy drinks contain vitamins B2, B3, B6 and B12 in small amounts, which can supplement the amount you derive from your daily diet. They also contain taurine, an amino acid that promotes salt and water balance in the blood.

This is the good part, but the flipside cannot be ignored.

Insomnia and dependence pose a real problem Caffeine is a major ingredient in energy drinks, surpassing that in Coca-Cola. A 16 ounce can contains 160 milligrams of caffeine, about the same in one cup of coffee. Caffeine dependence is never desirable, and daily, unfettered consumption of energy drinks and coffee can cause insomnia, irritability and anxiety.

In the worst case-scenario, people who gulp down energy drinks and soft drinks set themselves up for symptoms such as stomach problems, fevers and diarrhea. This is incompatible with a healthy lifestyle, regardless of whether you’re an employed individual or a school-going teen.

The health risks are too serious to ignoreThe simple sugars and hidden additives in energy drinks may revitalize your body, but the buzz dies down pretty quickly. Importantly, your insulin levels go haywire due to the elevation and drop in sugar levels, which can lead to that “crashing” feeling.

The high sugar content of energy drinks can contribute to weight gain and high cholesterol. Sugary drinks dehydrate your system and can decay your teeth over time.

Worryingly, studies have found that, when mixed with alcohol, energy drinks can make you feel sober even when you’re not. In an irresponsible moment, you may decide to drive because you don’t ‘feel’ tipsy, though in reality, you may be too intoxicated to attempt driving.

There is not much research or literature on the proprietary ingredients that energy drink makers claim improve the taste and performance of their products. If we were to train our microscope on these ingredients, we may discover some unsavory facts that make us think twice about un-natural energy drinks.

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