Energy Drinks Reportedly Claim Lives; Caffeinated Popcorn Announced
Need a caffeine fix to get through these shorter, colder days? You may want to think twice before guzzling an energy drink. According to a list recently published on the Food and Drug Administration website, 5-Hour Energy drinks were cited in about 90 incident reports between Jan. 1, 2004 and Oct. 23, 2012. Thirty-three of these cases resulted in hospitalizations, reports Newsday, and 13 allegedly ended in deaths. Rockstar products also made the list of energy drink-related reports, as well as Monster beverages, which led to 40 incident reports and five deaths within the same time frame. About a month ago, Maryland parents sued Monster, claiming the drink was to blame for the death of their 14-year-old daughter in December 2011. The parents claim Monster didn't warn about the products' risks.
Besides energy drinks, consumers will have yet another way to get their caffeine: Cracker Jacks. Frito-Lay announced that, soon, a new spin on the classic snack will hit store shelves. The coffee-flavored snack will reportedly contain about 70 milligrams of caffeine in one 2-ounce package, reports Advertising Age. The product's name? Cracker Jack'd.
Easy Ways to Reduce Caffeine Intake
Can't slug through a day without a cup of coffee, and then another, and then one or two more? Need a Coke or Pepsi pick-me-up to finish that task?
Most experts say a moderate amount of caffeine is OK for healthy adults. Ideally, that's 200 milligrams or less a day, or about two cups of strong coffee, says registered dietitian Melinda Johnson, a lecturer in the nutrition program at Arizona State University. But some people are more sensitive to caffeine. "If you experience nervousness, anxiety, shakiness, or have problems sleeping," it might be time to cut back, Johnson says. Research suggests that caffeine can spike heart rate and blood pressure, while increasing feelings of stress, anxiety, and road rage. It can also leave you feeling wired for up to 16 hours after your last cup, according to the National Institutes of Health. Kicking the habit isn't as daunting as it sounds, either. Back away from the coffee pot and try these seven easy tricks for cutting back on caffeine.
1. Analyze your caffeine intake. You may be overlooking some sources of caffeine. While many are obvious—coffee and soda, for example—others are less clear. "Energy drinks can contain large amounts of caffeine, and they're not required to tell you how much caffeine is in a serving," Johnson says. Chocolate and gum are other sources, as are common over-the-counter medications like Excedrin. "The best way to cut down is to first take stock," Johnson says. "Where is your caffeine coming from, how much do you consume, and what times of day do you consume it?" Once you're aware, you'll be better positioned to scale back. "Sometimes caffeine is disguised, and you have to be more of a sleuth reading ingredients," says Andrea Giancoli, a registered dietician and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
2. Cut back gradually. Caffeine withdrawal is real and can cause symptoms like a pounding headache, fatigue, and an inability to concentrate. That's why you shouldn't abruptly purge caffeine from your daily routine. [Read more: Easy Ways to Reduce Caffeine Intake]
The Energy Drink, Deconstructed
Despite a recent spate of bad press, the popularity of energy drinks has not waned, writes U.S. News blogger Tamara Duker Freuman. Energy drinks and shots represent a $9 billion business in this country, and the category has been growing consistently since Red Bull introduced the first such product in 1987. Domestically, Red Bull alone is a $3 billion brand, and the leading energy shot product, 5-hour ENERGY, boasts $1 billion in retail sales. A 2011 study published in the journal Pediatrics reported that 30 to 50 percent of teens and young adults use energy drinks and that people under the age of 25 account for half of all sales. Teen and young adult males are reportedly the leading consumers of energy drinks.
Clearly, there are plenty of people who are convinced that energy drinks deliver on their promise. But is there science to support the purported benefits of these formulations?
To answer this question, I offer a breakdown of the most common energy drink ingredients and the science behind them.
1. Caffeine. The one thing all energy drinks and shots have in common is caffeine, though you may not always see it listed on the label as such. While chemically-derived caffeine will be listed explicitly on a label, the natural caffeine contained in ingredients like guarana, green coffee extract, green tea extract, or yerba mate may not be. According to the aforementioned study, beverage marketers are not required to list the naturally-occurring caffeine content in these ingredients. That means that even listed caffeine levels may be under-reported if they are included in addition to synthetic caffeine. Importantly, "natural caffeine" is chemically identical to the stuff produced in a lab. As a result, it behaves no differently in the body and produces identical results; it is neither more "healthy" nor less so. [Read more: The Energy Drink, Deconstructed]