Eliminate the Worst Offenders
Part 2 of 5

If you read Part 1 titled Cross Off the Pop and decided to “cross off” regular and diet sodas from your personal drink menu, good for you. Now, for the next important question…what are you drinking instead? How about this next item on the menu?

Sports Drinks: Yummy Food Colorings, Loads of Sugar, and More!

The exhausted basketball star sits on the bench with a towel over his head, his head in his hands. The announcer tells us he’s just come back from a bout with the flu. We see him drinking from a cup that bears the name of a popular sports beverage. In the next scene, he makes the winning shot. The implication? He couldn’t have made it through the game, and certainly couldn’t have made that winning shot, without that rejuvenating liquid in the green cup.

Lots of teens and young adults have made the switch from sodas to sports drinks. Some schools have even replaced pop with sports drinks in their vending machines. After all, athletes drink them for rehydration and energy, so these beverages must be more nutritious and healthful than sodas—at least, that’s what advertisers want you to believe. Is it true?

Despite claims that sports beverages work wonders, you’re better off leaving these drinks in the cooler or on the store shelf. For most people, such drinks aren’t necessary and could be detrimental to your health.

If you’re an athlete, or if you exercise more than 1.5 hours at one time, you might need something extra to replace the water, sodium, and potassium that you lose when you sweat. Even then, the most popular sports drinks might not be the best choice. A recent investigation by the British Medical Journal revealed a lack of scientific evidence that these drinks live up to their claims.

Have we been duped by the media?

Check out some of the ingredients listed on the labels of the most popular brands.

  • Sugar, dextrose, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Remember, your total grams of sugar for the day should not exceed 25 grams, and that’s if you’re fully grown. Some varieties of sports drinks have as many as 21 grams and list two or three forms of sugar, while some list sugar and artificial sweeteners, as well. If you haven’t read about the dangers of too much sugar, go back and read part 1 of this series. Or, better yet, go read The Sweet Life series (parts 1, 2 and 3).
  • Added vitamins. You might think a few added vitamins, such as B6 and B12, make up for the sugar overload. Don’t be fooled. Ken Swearengen, senior editor of HealthWire, notes that vitamins and minerals work best in their natural forms and combinations. It’s best to depend on whole foods for most of your vitamins and minerals.
  • Artificial colorings. Yellow 5, yellow 6, blue 1, red 40…According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), many of these dyes are made from a petroleum base and have been linked to hyperactivity, allergies, and cancer (not really worth the brilliant colors, do you think?) 
  • Brominated vegetable oil (BVO). Two large beverage companies recently removed this controversial ingredient from their drinks after a 15-year-old girl questioned the makers about its safety. BVO was originally made to be used as a flame retardant!

So, what replaced BVO in some of these drinks?

  • Sucrose acetate isobutyrate, a common food additive and…
  • Glycerol ester of rosin, which is collected from the stumps of pine trees. Just what you want to see in your favorite beverage, right? Possibly not.

These two are “generally recognized as safe,” according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), writes Swearengen. Maybe so, but Swearengen, a certified personal fitness trainer and a sports nutrition consultant, explains that the main concern with most sports drinks is the large concentration of sugars. Even if you don’t mind drinking various chemicals and other scary-sounding ingredients, the sugar content alone should prompt you to pour it down the drain. 

The Final Verdict for Sports Drinks

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns teens, including young athletes, to avoid sports drinks or to consume very little. The high sugar content and unnecessary extra calories contribute to weight gain and tooth decay (some experts believe they might do even more damage to your teeth than soda). Choose water as your main source of rehydration, reports the AAP. 

If you're an athlete and find that you occasionally need to replenish your body quickly during prolonged exercise, a sports drink might be acceptable along with plenty of water (there are a few all-natural brands). Many experts agree, however, that water is sufficient. Water will properly rehydrate almost anyone, says Swearengen, except for high-performance athletes. For those who exercise heavily, he suggests coconut water, which is naturally high in electrolytes.

Kris Gunnars, founder of the website Authority Nutrition, agrees. Gunnars, a medical student and certified personal trainer, placed sports drinks on his list of “15 Health Foods: That Are Really Junk Foods”…most regular people don’t need any additional salts, and they certainly have no need for liquid sugar, he writes.

So…what do you think? Have we been duped by clever marketing when it comes to sports beverages? Perhaps it’s time for you to erase one more beverage choice from your drink menu.

As more teens and young adults drop soda from their menus, many are substituting an even worse choice than sports drinks. Have you tried this next item? 

Energy Drinks: May Cause Death

The New York Daily News reported the death of a 16-year-old girl in June 2014. This healthy, high school sophomore died of a heart attack on a beach in Mexico. Her mother blames the energy drinks her daughter had been consuming immediately before she died.

In 2011, a 14-year-old girl died of cardiac arrhythmia, after consuming two cans of a popular energy drink within 24 hours. Her parents were convinced that the drinks contributed to her death.

These are extreme cases but ones we can’t ignore. Energy drinks have been linked to 34 U.S. deaths since 2004, according to FDA documents, and the number of related deaths has doubled since late 2012, as reported by CSPI.

Energy drinks have contributed to thousands of emergency room visits, as well—more than 20,000 in 2011, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

What’s going on? What in the world do these popular pick-me-ups contain?

Energy drinks share some of the same ingredients as sports drinks—artificial colorings and flavorings, added vitamins, and large amounts of sugar. One label revealed 54 grams! But it’s important to understand the things that make energy drinks different.

Natural Stimulants

You might find names like guarana, taurine, and ginseng on your energy drink label. Sounds healthy, doesn’t it?

Occasionally, health professionals do suggest some of these substances for particular conditions, but natural stimulants can have serious side effects if not used properly. Dr. Mark Stengler, author of The Natural Physicians Healing Therapies, warns of effects such as “anxiety, insomnia, chronic fatigue, heart abnormalities, and elevated blood pressure.”

The desired effect of energy drinks, however, depends primarily on one main ingredient…

Caffeine Overkill

Every time you down a can of your favorite energy drink, you’re consuming a high dose of caffeine. After all, that’s why you drink it. You need a jolt to keep you going during a late-night study session, a long distance road trip, or any time you’re lacking energy. 

But other drinks contain this well-know stimulant, too. How is an energy drink any worse than a cup of coffee or a cola?

A little caffeine early in the day probably won’t hurt you, but the amounts found in the typical energy drink can create some real problems.

The AAP suggests a maximum of 100 milligrams of caffeine per day for teens. A typical energy drink contains 500 milligrams, equivalent to the amount in five cups of coffee. Unfortunately, you won’t get this information from reading many of the labels. Although some labels do list specific amounts of caffeine, many simply include it in the ingredient list or as part of an energy blend.

Since you’re usually not aware of how much caffeine each drink contains, you can easily overdose and consume toxic levels, reports the American Medical Association. In some rare cases, an overdose might lead to death from caffeine poisoning.

Stimulation to the Max

Of course, most people don’t wind up with caffeine poisoning like those unfortunate 34 who died, but caffeine will cause other difficulties when you consume too much of it.

For example, everyone knows that too many stimulants keep you awake, which is usually part of your goal when you pop the top of an energy drink. When you make it part of your routine, though, you’ll rob yourself of the regular sleep you need. Neither your brain nor your body functions properly without it. Read the Time for Bed series (parts 1, 2 and 3) for more information on the importance of sleep).

Unfortunately, a lack of sleep might be the least of your worries if you insist on making these beverages a habit. Check out the list of other possible problems caused by an excess of caffeine and other stimulants.…

  • Irritability
  • Nervousness
  • Digestive disturbances
  • Heart attack or other heart problems
  • Dehydration
  • High blood pressure
  • Lack of concentration—not exactly the effect you’re looking for when its crunch time at the end of the semester.

If you gulp your drink too fast, or if you drink too many at one time, warns the American Association of Poison Control Centers, watch out for the following additional effects…

  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Headache
  • Kidney problems
  • Delirium
  • Mood disturbances

The Most Dangerous Combination

Remember all of those ER visits reported by SAMHSA? Although more than half of them in 2011 involved only energy drinks, 42% of the patients had combined the drinks with alcohol or other drugs.

The AMA explains that alcohol and drugs compound the toxic effects of caffeine. Such a combination can be particularly dangerous because caffeine’s stimulation can mask the sensation of intoxication. In other words, you can be drunk without feeling it. Unfortunately, your judgment will still be impaired, and because the caffeine makes you feel more alert, you might attempt to drive or to engage in other risky behavior while under the influence. 

The Final Verdict for Energy Drinks

Consuming energy drinks might not send you to the ER or to your death, although it could if you are careless. It has happened to others. Why take the chance? And you certainly don’t need the detrimental effects these beverages often bring along with them.

If you experience fatigue or need a little pick-me-up occasionally, you can find better ways to boost your energy. Don’t underestimate the power of getting enough sleep or eating a healthy diet, for example. If you consistently feel a lack of energy in spite of your efforts, consider visiting your doctor. Don’t turn to energy drinks!

Delete these dangerous drinks from your menu.

You’ve got lots of choices left on your bill of fare: lemonade, juice, tea, milk…. No worries about these basic beverages, right? Maybe…. Don’t miss part 3, where we’ll take a look at the  “imposters” of the beverage world.

Written by Beth W. Prassel-Sieg


Part 1:
Cross Off the Pop

Part 3:
Watch Out for Imposters

Part 4:
Three More Imposters Exposed

Part 4:
I’ll Just Have Water…

©Copyright 2014 / Good Choices Good Life, Inc. / All Rights Reserved

Good habits formed at youth make all of the difference in life. Aristotle