Mr. Norris, as a parent who cares for my kids’ diets, I’m appalled by the amount of caffeine being dumped by companies into drinks and snacks. But what are some good, healthy energy-boosting alternatives we can offer them? – Theresa M., Idaho
In the first two parts of this series on caffeine and kids, I explained how a host of new drinks, foods and snacks marketed mostly to kids are being injected with mega-amounts of caffeine. And many adolescents are falling prey to the “energy” misnomer and trap and unintentionally becoming caffeine addicts.
Consider that a single energy drink injects up to 14 times the caffeine that is found in a normal can of soda – an amount that is considered by some to be clinically toxic for children. Some drinks purport that they are sugar- and caffeine-free, but the primary stimulants in most are sugars and caffeine (sometimes in the form of guarana or yerba mate).
A 2011 study in the journal Pediatrics explained how “energy drinks are consumed by 30 percent to 50 percent of adolescents and young adults.” Of the 5,448 U.S. caffeine overdoses reported in 2007, 46 percent occurred in those younger than 19.
Last week, I discussed how caffeine has the Food and Drug Administration regulatory classification of “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS, which means manufacturers can settle on their own what levels are safe in their products. The problem is that GRAS levels clearly are being superseded when mega-amounts of caffeine are being ingested all day from a host of products, especially by adolescents, whose bodies still are developing.
And remember that caffeine is just one of myriad added GRAS ingredients. The Associated Press recently pointed out: “As food companies have created more new ingredients to add health benefits, improve taste or help food stay fresh, there are at least 4,650 of these ‘generally recognized as safe’ ingredients, according to the nonpartisan Pew Charitable Trusts. The bulk of them, at least 3,000, were determined GRAS by companies and trade associations.”
And should we also assume that the cocktail blends of those thousands of GRAS ingredients have no intermixing hazards and are equally GRAS together? And do we and our kids really need mega-amounts of caffeine added to the mix?
Regarding the more “natural” among the energy drinks, a recent Berkeley Wellness Alert reported that: “The claim that vitamins or herbal cocktails are ‘energizing’ is false. Vitamins and herbs do not give you energy.”
In the end, one won’t get much more energy from so-called energy drinks than one could get from a strong cup or two of coffee, because the body can only assimilate so much before it secretes it or overdoses on it. And that goes for many vitamins, too, which many people (and most youths) don’t realize can become toxic if taken in high doses.
The difficulty with classic sports drinks, such as Gatorade and Powerade, is that though they replace lost electrolytes and carbohydrates during sustained strenuous exercise and prevent dehydration, they also contain superfluous calories, other additives and sugars that promote obesity and cause tooth decay. Moreover, their replenishment can be characteristic of a short-lived glucose rush, despite the fact that they’re billed as electrolyte rejuvenators.
Seeing as food and beverage industries are playing with additive concoctions and we consumers are the guinea pig laboratories for their synthetic testing, isn’t an organic piece of fruit sounding better all the time?
In this age of rampant reckless recipes lining our groceries’ shelves, parents are going to have to be twice as diligent to help their kids make wise choices with their diets.
I’ll be straight with you: If I have a chance to go natural over synthetic, I’ll go natural every time. So if you’re looking for quick and sustained energy for an afternoon low or a pre-workout buzz, let me recommend a few of my favorite healthy energy-enhancing alternatives.
The fact is that eating an orange or banana (or any other potassium-rich fruit or vegetable), munching on a handful of peanuts and drinking a glass of water or a cup of orange juice an hour before a workout will give you a surge of sustained energy to carry you through most vigorous exercise programs. I call bananas “nature’s energy drinks” because they are loaded with nutrients and energy-boosting ingredients. (Go to creators.com and read a previous “C-Force” article titled “Nature’s Energy Drink: A Banana.”)
A study by the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension concludes that “sport drinks are poor sources of potassium.”
The article explains: “Athletes also may need more potassium to replace that lost from muscle during exercise and the smaller amount lost in sweat. Low potassium can cause muscle cramping and cardiovascular irregularities. Eating foods high in potassium can prevent these symptoms. One cup of orange juice, a banana or a potato is sufficient to replace the potassium lost during one to two hours of hard exercise.”
Dr. David L. Katz, internationally renowned authority on nutrition from the Yale University School of Medicine, similarly recommends pre-workout energy derived from “whole grains and lean protein such as eggs and nuts. The grains will provide carbohydrates that your body can readily convert to energy. And the protein can be put to use repairing and building new muscle following your workout, while the high-calorie but healthy fats in the nuts will fill you up quickly with less bulk.”
When in doubt, give nature a chance. Drink water to hydrate and rehydrate (including during exercise). And look to natural foods to offer energy, whether you’re going to school, going to work, going to a workout or replenishing electrolytes post-workout.