Walking down the soda aisle in Albertson’s, you will notice a growing section of different colored cans in all sizes. Bright colors and elaborate designs on these cans scream out to consumers, claiming to boost energy and increase alertness.
No longer will you have to choose between Gatorade flavors to replenish yourself before or after a workout or a good old-fashioned cup of coffee after a sleepless night. Every day, more and more energy drinks are filling the shelves.
Not only have they become trendy in our fast-paced society, where sleep has become expendable, but these energy drinks have become a substitute for healthy eating. But what is so appealing about these drinks?
Cesar Aranguri, a third-year biological sciences major, admits that he prefers having an energy drink over a cup of coffee or a can of Pepsi.
‘I don’t really like soda all that much because it’s all sugar and it’s easier to buy an energy drink than make a cup of coffee,’ Aranguri said. ‘It’s a quick fix.’
At the New University’s request, Aranguri tried a couple of energy drinks to see what effect they had on him.
Aranguri first drank Sobe No Fear in the middle of the afternoon before his last class followed by two hours of studying.
‘I had six hours of sleep the night before, so I was tired to begin with, but I took the Sobe and I pretty much stayed awake in class,’ Aranguri said. ‘I still felt a little physically tired, but I was mentally alert.’
Two days later, with the same amount of sleep and before the same class followed by two hours of studying, Aranguri drank Mountain Dew’s Amp.
‘I started to fall asleep in class. The Amp didn’t help as much [as the Sobe],’ Aranguri said.
Jonathan Shalom, a first-year biological sciences major, drinks Red Bull whenever he needs energy to stay awake.
‘I do feel that [Red Bull] is a lot healthier than a cup of coffee, but I wouldn’t be surprised it if had the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee,’ Shalom said.
According to Frances O’Neil, registered dietician at UCI’s Student Health Center, drinking an energy drink is no better than drinking coffee or a Pepsi.
‘It is not better than drinking Pepsi because it doesn’t list how many milligrams of caffeine is in it, and that should be a big red flag for people,’ O’Neil said. ‘They [Sobe No Fear and Amp] also have the ginseng in addition to the caffeine, which has the same effects as caffeine, such as constricting the blood vessels and quickening the heart rate.’
All of the drinks contained many of the same ingredients, including taurine and pantothenic acid. Red Bull was the only one that did not contain ginseng or guarana, which is extracted from a fruit that grows in Venezuela and Brazil. The fruit contains high levels of caffeine.
According to O’Neil, caffeine, ginseng and guarana combined make the energy drink even more unhealthy.
‘You’ve got the triple whammy there,’ O’Neil said. ‘You’re putting yourself at high risk for some potentially fatal reaction.’
Although O’Neil does not think any of the drinks are healthy, she pointed out that the Sobe No Fear was the worst of them all.
‘This is definitely much more heavily fortified with substances that are more potentially damaging and dangerous, especially in combination, compared to the Red Bull,’ O’Neil said.
But Sobe No Fear does have a warning label for their consumers: ‘Not recommended for children, pregnant women or people sensitive to caffeine.’ The warning is followed by a message telling consumers that ‘this product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.’
Along wih the harmful ingredients, the energy drinks do contain high levels of B vitamins, which are needed to derive energy from food.
O’Neil does not recommend anyone to use the drinks because of the high levels of caffeine.
‘What’s so deceiving is that they don’t list the amount of caffeine in the drinks,’ O’Neil said. ‘There could be lethal doses and you wouldn’t even know it.’
Although there is no evidence to support her suspicions, O’Neil believes that these energy drinks may have a connection with the deaths of young athletes.
‘There are always athletes out on the field, dropping dead from some sort of coronary failure,’ O’Neil said.
O’Neil’s main concern is that young students, even those in junior high, drink these energy drinks on top of going to Starbucks for a trendy caffeine fix. Such a combination of high levels of caffeine can be dangerous.
Instead of resorting to energy drinks, O’Neil suggested that people eat properly, stay hydrated, exercise and get enough sleep.
‘By far and away, the best energy booster is exercise, especially if you’ve been sitting in class or in the library for hours on end. The blood goes down to your feet and your brain just wants to sleep,’ O’Neil said. ‘So, you should get up, take a brisk 15-minute walk and drink a 12-ounce glass of water and go back to work.’
Although Aranguri does drink an occasional Red Bull, he does not see the energy drinks as a substitute for sleep.
‘The best thing is just to get enough sleep, so I wouldn’t advise relying on this type of drink,’ Aranguri said.
Although one energy drink won’t kill you, making it a habit of replacing sleep with an energy drink isn’t advised nor is it safe to have an energy drink with other caffeine-filled beverages, such as coffee or soda. So the next time, you decide to pull an all-nighter or let the bright colors and designs on the cans catch your eye, choose your poison carefully.