Energy Drinks: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Maybe you are an athlete looking for a competitive edge, or maybe you’re a sleep-deprived student, over-worked professional, or someone looking to be the life of the party. Energy drinks promising things like “hours of energy! Or “Intense focus!” are attractive to many looking to experience an added boost. Energy drinks are a booming market, yet each purported benefit seems to come along with a disturbing potential risk.

So, what’s the verdict? Are energy drinks good or bad? It turns out the answer depends on who you are, how much you drink, and how often you drink them.

What Are Energy Drinks?

Energy drinks are beverages meant to provide consumers with extra mental and physical stimulation. These boosts take the form of increased alertness, cognitive function, and reaction time. The products have come under fire since introduction to the US market in 1997; Despite a long list of potential risks to consumers, the market is predicted to be an impressive $21.5 billion industry by 2017.

Energy drinks are easily confused with coffee, tea, and sports drinks; Note that ‘energy drinks’ are a subset of energy bars and gels, and contain various combinations of stimulants, sugars, herbals, and amino acids.

The desired effects may come with a cost: A study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that enhanced athletic performance was accompanied by insomnia and nervousness hours later. What’s more, consumers with pre-existing health conditions including diabetes and cardiovascular abnormalities may experience exacerbated symptoms after consuming energy drinks. Other individuals including children and pregnant women, are advised to avoid energy drinks altogether.

Summary: An energy drink is a beverage marketed to increase the consumer’s focus and alertness. While companies achieve this desired effect by using various combinations of caffeine, sugars, herbal supplements, and amino acids, benefits may come with undesirable side effects.

 

What’s in My Energy Drink?

Since caffeine and sugar reliably produce stimulatory effects, it comes as no surprise that these ingredients are star performers in the majority of energy drinks on the market today. In fact, caffeine is the most widely used stimulant, praised for its ergogenic effects and health-boosting benefits. Note that caffeine-free energy drinks do exist, but careful label reading is necessary to distinguish between truly ‘caffeine-free’ versus ‘no caffeine added.’

Other commonly added ingredients are creatine, taurine, B-vitamins, guarana, L-carnitine, and ginseng. A scientific review from UC Davis, a leading research university, explains that limited overall scientific evidence exists that these ingredients live up to their marketing claims for things including muscle growth, thermogenic aids, and attention enhancing properties.

Added vitamins and minerals are often added in such small amounts that are unlikely to benefit our overall health.

Summary: Energy drink companies select various ingredients in varying amounts to provide consumers with enhanced energy. Limited scientific evidence regarding ingredient safety and efficacy, coupled with countless possible combinations of ingredients, makes it difficult for consumers to select the best product for his/her needs.

 

Energy Drink Labeling is Inconsistent Across Companies

Even the savviest label readers are challenged when decoding energy drink ingredients. The problem lies in labeling regulations, since the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act  does not require caffeine disclosure for beverages or supplements. The labeling nuances are further complicated since companies can choose to market their drinks as “beverages” or “liquid dietary supplements.” (The former requires FDA approved nutrition facts, while the latter requires non-FDA approved “supplement facts.”

The majority of leading manufacturers including ‘Rock Star Energy’ and ‘Monster’ voluntarily disclose caffeine and other stimulant content of their products. This not a requirement across the board, which makes making it incredibly difficult for people to make educated decisions.

Motivated consumers may call individual energy drink companies and request product ingredient disclosure. Just note that values may not account for naturally-occurring caffeine sources, i.e. guarana, a common additive.

Summary: Inconsistent labeling regulations make it difficult for consumers to make educated selections when purchasing energy drinks.

 

Excessive Energy Drink Consumption: Moderation is Key

Ounce for ounce, 8oz of Monster or Red Bull has nearly the same amount of caffeine as an 8oz cup of coffee. Today’s Dietitian, a subset of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, reports that some drinks deliver up to 300mg of caffeine, which puts consumers close to the generally accept 400mg upper limit for daily caffeine consumption for the average, healthy person. A quick look at FDA reports shows adverse effects including flushing, lethargy, abnormal HR, chest pain, visual disturbances, vomiting, hyperventilation, dizziness, and convulsions.

The average sugar content of top selling energy drinks is 25g per 8oz, but some brands are sold in 32oz bottles, delivering a whopping 108g sugar! This is especially problematic for those with diabetes; What’s more, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with obesity, dental problems, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.

Let’s not forget that energy drinks are oftentimes mixed with alcohol. In fact, research from the CDC suggests that caffeine in energy drinks may mask effects of alcohol, making it more likely for that individual to consume excessive amounts of sugar, alcohol, and caffeine in one sitting.

Summary: As with anything, moderation is key. Consuming small amounts of an energy drink is unlikely to produce adverse effects in the average person; However, excessive consumption increases risks, especially for kids and those with pre-existing health conditions.

Health: It’s Not Black And White

Be healthy. Eat healthy. Simple, right? You nod vigorously, and enthusiastically say “Right, sure! But um, *embarrassed look-away* let me just ask one teeny tiny question to clarify: ‘Health’ means…What, exactly?”

The confusion starts when we try to define health as something we either have or don’t have. Humor me for a moment and consider an alternative.

Consider this:

Health is…

  1. Eating delicious foods we prepare ourselves, then lovingly share with friends and family. For me, this means deep-dish apple pie with homemade cream over the holidays; in summertime, this means fresh salads and seasonal veggies and BBQ chicken.

 

  1. Tuning into our hunger cues. Hungry means eat, just as green means ‘go,’ until we’re satisfied. End of story. (Eating real food, not hyperpalatable food-like-product made in a lab, makes this concept easier). Ignoring hunger and fullness cues, eating according to a clock, logging every morsel consumed in our Apps, voluntarily ‘shredding’ for a competition or “complaining” about all of the gluten-meat-dairy-soy-carby foods we “just can’t have.” Glorifying self-inflicted restriction does not make us martyrs.

 

  1. Understanding that aesthetics and health can absolutely go hand-in-hand, but aesthetics do not automatically equal ‘health.’ Know the difference.

 

 

  1. Understanding that friends and family want us to live well and prosper. Pseudoscientific documentaries, diet plans, and diet calculators don’t give 2 shits about us.

 

  1. Attaching our self-worth to something other than the scale number. How exactly will life be ‘so much better’ after hitting that magic number? How about “sleeping more soundly, lifting more weight, being able to run a 5K, taking walks because it makes us feel amazing?”

 

  1. Respecting that the body thrives on variety, and being able to eat about damn near everything is respectable in itself. Contrary to popular belief, we will not spontaneously combust after ingesting a piece of bread. Or pasta. Or animal product. Or piece of cheese. We will, however, wither up if we resort to air…or photosynthesis. Food-fearing hoopla doesn’t get a place at my table.

 

7. Building a basic understanding of ‘food’ vs. ‘food-like products,’ such that we pick the former more often than the latter, such that we don’t rely on sexy media headlines or talk shows to dictate our daily food choices. Emphasis on ‘more often,’ not ‘every single time.’

 

  1. Exercising as a way to feel centered and connected to our bodies; to move and take up space in whatever way feels fun. Not every session needs to be ‘balls to the wall’ to be effective. Let’s use exercise as a tool to feel powerful and strong in the vessels we inhabit.

 

  1. To acknowledge that we’re all just a little messed up…and that’s OK. Me? I have what Papa Dimi would call “a stronger-than-normal fight-or-flight response.” That’s code for, I’m cool as a cucumber…until I’m not. Then I’m a stressed out, withdrawn, anxious, shell of a person with a shitty mindset. The best medicine is a combination of meditation, movement, laughter, and social interaction. It takes a village (and a little introspection, and a lot of time) to learn our personal triggers. Invest in this individual process.

 

  1. Being unapologetically truthful with ourselves. Nobody cares to hear just how busy we are, or how we just don’t have the time to eat well. The truth is, we’re all allotted 24-hours per day, and how we choose to spend it is up to us. Understand that radical honesty deserves the utmost respect: Try “I choose to prioritize my friends and work at this time. While I know how to eat well/cook/shop, I choose to focus my efforts on other parts of my life at this time…and I’m unashamedly OK with that.” Say it for me, but most importantly for yourself. Stop the cycle of shame and guilt for not always doing what we ‘should.’

 

  1. Practicing self-compassion. Take a load off from time to time to gather stressors and worries in one deep breath…and Let. Them. Go. We are complicated creatures, and beautifully so.

Nutritional Multi-Level-Marketing: Keep Your Money Close, and Your Vulnerability Closer

Scroll through your social media feeds and I bet you’ll find a few posts like this:

“I lost 10 pounds in 3 days on (insert diet product here)!”*

“Lose weight with NO diet and NO exercise!”**

“I can ‘be bad’ all weekend, eat whatever I want, and just drink this (mystery) product on Monday to detox and reset my metabolism!”***

“Message me for details on how YOU can do this too!”

*OK, maybe 10 pounds in 2 weeks of WATER weight, not fat. Same unrealistic idea.

**Red flag.

***A few things here: First, that product looks like baby spit-up and smells like chalk. Second, ‘detox’ and ‘metabolism reset’ are MADE. UP. WORDS. from the diet industry. In all seriousness, your liver and kidneys do all the detoxing you need. If those organs aren’t working properly, call 911. This is not a drill.

You’re wondering, what’s this mystery product all about? I see the ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures, and my friend looks fantastic! Maybe I’ll just message and get learn the secret and maybe I’ll finally lose those last 5 pounds and finally be happy with my hot body and all will be right with the world and…and…

WAIT. BREATHE. There’s something VERY fishy going on here:

  1. These friends love you, but they also love money. (Your friends IRL love you. That’s “In real life” for the non-millennials here. The ‘friends’ on Social media whom you’ve never met yet live vicariously through? They love your adoration and money, not YOU, silly).
  2. Money can make people do crazy things.
  3. Your friends know this: In general, people love the allure of ‘quick-fixes’ and ‘miracle cures.’ Who cares it took years to achieve an unhealthy body and mindset? Clearly we can reverse years of poor habits a matter of days! *This is not possible, but now you see it: the allure of sparkly nutrition magic makes rational thought go straight out the window.
  4. Your friends want to make money. More specifically, your friends want to make commission by selling a bogus (and unregulated) nutritional supplement TO YOU!

Think of this process as the ‘Avon’ of the supplement world. You sell a company’s product to others and make commission off of your sales. Bonus points (read: MORE MONEY) if you can create minions product-sellers out of your customers. In fact, what I’m describing to you here has a name. It’s called:

MULTI LEVEL MARKETING. Some common MLM companies include Keto-OS, Isagenix, Arbonne, Cosway, and Herbalife. Ahh, yes, so you’ve heard of these!

For sake of conversation, let’s say you decided to message your friend to learn what product got him/her that rockin’ body. You would have learned which product your friend was selling (likely something from the list above) and you would have received a formulated pitch about how you, too, could reap the benefits of not only using the product, but selling it!

Rest assured that your friend isn’t intentionally trying to hurt you (He/she really loves your money, but no, he/she isn’t being malicious on purpose. I’m not here to ruin your day). Instead, your friend was tricked on a multitude of levels by

1. The diet industry that does NOT care about you. That’s a Girl-Scout promise

2. The allure of a nutritional ‘quick-fix’ (see #3 above)

3. The promise of some extra cash

Now you see it: Those miraculous weight-loss claims and ‘before/after’ pictures are part of a complex pyramid scheme called multi-level-marketing. Keep your money close and your vulnerability closer, you informed consumer, you.

 

 

 

 

 

Keto-Craze

Keto. Ketogenic. Ketosis. All of these words refer to the ketogenic diet, AKA a hot (and painfully misunderstood) diet trend.
You ask, ‘Is it for me? Can Keto give me a chiseled physique once and for all?’
We’ll get there, I promise. But first, some key facts: 
1. The ketogenic diet is NOT new. It was developed in the 1920’s-1930’s, intended for epileptic seizures when medications fail.
2. The REAL ketogenic diet is a 4:1 fat to carbohydrate AND protein ratio. That’s carbohydrate and protein combined. This extreme ratio is a far-cry from the high-fat, high-protein “keto” diet trending on social media
3. The “keto” trend gracing the fitness community and social media is actually…wait for it…a modified Atkins diet. Sorry to disappoint, but science isn’t always sexy.
Still with me? Let’s take a deep dive into what the keto diet is REALLY about! Buckle up:
First of all, what are ketones? How/when are they made in the body?
Prolonged dietary carbohydrate restriction reduces insulin levels, which results in decreased lipogenesis. Glucose reserves become inadequate for even normal fat oxidation in the TCA cycle (carbs are needed to produce enough OAA to continue the cycle). The CNS lacks adequate glucose supply, as it “prefers” glucose, and it cannot use fat as an energy source; Thus an alternative source is required after 3-4 days of inadequate carbohydrate, and this is where ketone bodies come into play (acetoacetate, b-hydroxybutyric acid, and acetone). Once ketone production in the liver reaches about 4mmol/L, the CNS and body tissues can use ketone bodies as an energy source (b-hydroxybutyrate–>2 molecules Acetyl CoA–>use in the TCA cycle).
(Haven’t read these science terms since high school? Here’s a TCA cycle refresher)
 
How little carbohydrate may I eat and still achieve ketosis?
Approximately 50g/day, but this is entirely based upon the individual’s daily calorie needs (4:1 fat to carb/pro ratio. NOTE: the “1” refers to carbohydrates and protein COMBINED. We’re talking a 90% fat diet here).
What foods comply with the ketogenic diet?
Butter, oils, bacon, heavy cream, avocados, etc.
Was the ketogenic diet designed for weight loss?
Short answer: NO.
The ketogenic diet leaked it’s way into mainstream diet culture, but that’s not it’s intended purpose. The ketogenic diet is used in the clinical setting to control epilepsy (especially in children) when medications fail. It’s a full-time job with precise calculations necessary to maintain the patient’s blood sugar in the desired ketogenic range. This is done under supervision of doctors and Registered Dietitians.
 
But I don’t have epilepsy. I just want to lose weight. Is the keto diet for me?
First, the science: While the research is preliminary, adherence to the ketogenic diet MAY result in increased energy expenditure due to the “costly” effect of ketone production and usage. Insulin sensitivity may improve as well, and using this alternate metabolic pathway may lead to changes in “hunger/satiety” hormones ghrelin and leptin. Finally, the protein and fat may have a satiating effect, making the individual less likely to over-consume calories each day.
Let’s be real: The “keto” diet in mainstream diet culture is NOT true keto, but rather an Atkins or modified-Atkins diet (sorry to disappoint…this is nothing magical and nothing new). Pop-culture “keto” is actually a low(er) carb, high fat AND high protein diet. It’s not likely that followers of this diet are actually reaching ketosis (to be sure, you can detect ketone bodies in the blood and urine…but who is really taking the time to do these tests?)
I’m still intrigued, but I have diabetes! Or, I have a history of kidney problems. Is Keto (or a modified-Atkins) for me?
 Please see your doctor before attempting this diet. (see “contraindications/risks” in the first listed reference)
What are the risks associated with the ketogenic diet?
 Assuming we’re talking about a TRUE ketogenic diet (90% fat), there is a real risk for nutrient deficiency here. Nearly eliminating all high-quality carbohydrate sources (whole grains, most dairy, legumes, fruits and vegetables) puts one at risk for deficiency. Folic acid, B vitamins, iron, calcium, and vitamin D  are of particular concern and will likely need to be supplemented. Additionally, lack of dietary fiber means the individual will likely need to take a daily stool softener.
 
Ok, maybe there are risks involved. But my friend (or Instagram star) swears by it and has lost a bunch of weight! 
 Here’s the deal. Many factors could be at play here. Some or all of these may hold true for these individuals:
The word “diet” implies that this will end, meaning the weight will come back after you go back to your “regular” way of eating. The goal here is sustained weight loss. Ask yourself: Can I realistically keep this up every day for the rest of my life? Be honest. If the answer is no, then stop. Reevaluate. The diet is not the answer. (See here for more on fad diets: http://www.eatright.org/resources/health/weight-loss/fad-diets)
1. Consuming less than your body needs will result in weight loss (at least in the beginning. I’m simplifying the science here). Consuming more than your body needs will cause weight gain. The exact foods consumed don’t entirely matter (again, simplifying for sake of conversation).
2. Carbohydrates hold water; Therefore reducing carbohydrate intake causes initial rapid water loss. You see this as a drop in the scale number. That’s where those “lose 10 pounds in 2 weeks!” diet miracle claims come from. That wasn’t fat loss, friend, but water loss.
3. Your friend or Instagram celeb might be losing weight because of the social support that “keto” offers. “Keto” offers the Dieter a community and dense of identity and belonging. We know that social support makes us more likely to reach our goals. The food itself doesn’t matter so much, but the sense of community does.
4. Your friend cut out empty calories (calorie-dense but nutrient-poor) like sugary drinks, candy, white bread/pasta, and other overly-processed food. Once in a while these treats are fine! But be real: on average, we indulge on a regular basis.
5. This individual is paying more attention to food intake than ever before, which is contributing to weight loss. Keeping food diaries, taking pictures of food eaten, or even taking time to pre-plan meals holds us accountable to our goals. Suddenly we don’t want “just a few chips” or “just a handful” of cookies if it means we have to consciously log it (that’s an old trick. Try it with your current meals, no keto switch needed).
More References:
Ketogenic overview and therapeutic applications (European Journal of Clinical Nutrition): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3826507/

Eating Raw Eggs: NOT Worth The Hype

Raw eggs: To eat or not to eat?

Depending on what search terms you Google, and who you spend your time around, you’ll get two VERY different answers.

Hang with Joe Bodybuilder or macro-fiends and you’ll hear “Gotta get your protein and hit those macros, so eat em’ raw!”

Hang with Registered Dietitians, scientists, or athletes with a working knowledge of science, and you’ll hear “Step away from the raw egg!”

Things get even more convoluted if you “do your homework” and look online for yourself. Googling “Benefits of raw eggs” will provide (seemingly) convincing evidence in SUPPORT of raw egg consumption. Sounds great, right?! Time to guzzle those babies down! Let’s look a little deeper; this “evidence” is primarily from outdated bodybuilding forums and advocates using personal testimonial as truth (red flags!) Maybe you’ve heard “but the vitamins get destroyed by cooking!” and “If vitamins take a hit, then it’s safe to assume that protein does, too!”

Woah woah woah, pump the breaks! Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It’s time for some foodie science:

One egg contains about 75 calories, .6g carbohydrate, and 7 grams of complete protein, meaning it contains all 9 essential amino acids in adequate quantities (the ones the body can’t make by itself.) One egg also delivers vitamin A, D, E, and B vitamins, along with a host of other minerals and antioxidants. (I’ll save the 5 grams of total fat and 187 mg cholesterol in an egg for another conversation. Spoiler alert: Dietary cholesterol plays a negligible role in blood cholesterol).

Your body digests and absorbs significantly more protein from cooked eggs vs raw eggs:(91% vs 51%, respectively). 

Raw eggs can carry salmonella. While eating a single egg isn’t terribly likely to result in diarrhea, cramps, and fever associated with salmonella poisoning, playing Russian roulette at the breakfast table isn’t my idea of fun.

Your body needs biotin, which is a B vitamin synthesized by gut microbes and                   found in foods like egg yolk (eggs, people!), liver, whole-grain cereal, and certain               vegetables. Biotin, formerly known as Vitamin H, is needed for healthy skin, hair,               liver, eyes, and nervous system function. We need biotin to metabolize carbs,               fats, and amino acids (the building blocks of protein). Biotin deficiency manifests as           scaly dermatitis, neurologic signs, and hair loss.

If biotin is so important for the gains (if you care) and for life in general (we all care)…then we wouldn’t want to compromise it’s function in our body! You’re thinking “Well of course not!” Actually, here’s the thing: If you eat raw eggs, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Keep reading:

Avidin binds biotin, rendering it essentially useless to the body. Let’s put that into plain English: Biotin is an essential nutrient found in egg yolks, and avidin is found in egg whites. Avidin is a glycoprotein with a high affinity for biotin; this means that avidin binds biotin and makes it unavailable for us! Luckily there’s a way avoid this complication in the first place: Just cook the egg, and presto! Avidin is denatured and it’s no longer a problem.

Let’s recap: By eating raw eggs, you: 

-Don’t absorb as much protein

-Compromise one of the vitamins involved in energy production

-Increase your risk of salmonella

By cooking the egg, you:

-Avoid the consequences described above. With knowledge on your side, now you see it: Raw eggs are NOT worth the hype.

 

References:

http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/biotin

Americal Journal of Clinical Nutrition raw eggs and biotin: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/75/2/179.full

http://jn.nutrition.org/content/128/10/1716.full

http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/raw-egg-protein-shake-unhealthy-1090.html

https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/112