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Eight Healthier Energy Drink Options Recommended by a Registered Dietitian

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In today's fast-paced world, many of us turn to energy drinks to get that much-needed boost when our energy levels dip. However, these beverages often come with downsides like caffeine jitters and eventual sugar crashes. Thankfully, in 2023, there are healthier alternatives to the sugary energy drinks of the past. Let's take a look at some of the best options, with insights from registered dietitian Valerie Gately, MS, RDN, LD.

The Science Behind Caffeine: Caffeine is not inherently bad; it can provide an energy boost, improve focus, and concentration. However, some energy drinks contain dangerously high levels of caffeine that can negatively affect your heart, anxiety levels, and sleep patterns. Moderation is key here.

The Safe Caffeine Limit: For the average person, a daily intake of around 400 mg or less of caffeine is considered safe. This is roughly equivalent to four small cups of coffee. Consuming more than this can lead to adverse effects.

Healthier Ingredients: When seeking healthier energy drinks, look for options that include vitamins, minerals, natural forms of caffeine, and less sugar compared to regular energy drinks. While sugar-free and low-sugar alternatives are better choices, coffee and caffeinated tea are still recommended over energy drinks to boost energy levels.

Ingredients to Avoid: Beyond excess caffeine and sugar, some "healthy" energy drinks may contain guarana, a seed with four times more caffeine than coffee beans. Additionally, some energy drinks use artificial sweeteners like stevia and sucralose, which may cause digestive issues for some individuals. It's important to read the ingredient labels and opt for options with natural sweeteners like monk fruit, agave, or honey.

The Healthiest Options:

  1. Celsius Live Fit: This energy drink contains 200 mg of caffeine, the highest among the listed options, and just 10 calories. It includes green tea extract with EGCG, guarana seed extract, and key vitamins and minerals.
  2. Zevia Zero Calorie Energy: This non-GMO energy drink offers 120 mg of organic caffeine per can and is sweetened with stevia-leaf extract, making it safe for the keto diet.
  3. Guayaki Organic Yerba Mate: This tea-based option contains 80 mg of caffeine and has minimal sugar, making it a calorie-friendly choice.
  4. Clean Cause Yerba Mate: Similar to the previous option, this energy drink adds stevia leaf extract for sweetness and supports alcohol and drug addiction recovery programs.
  5. Hiball Energy: Branded as an energy seltzer, this mild-flavored drink provides 160 mg of caffeine, 50 mg of guarana, and 50 mg of ginseng for natural energy.
  6. Nuun Sport + Caffeine: A convenient tablet option with 80 mg of caffeine and electrolytes for hydration during workouts.
  7. FOCUSAID Clean Energy: This energy drink contains 100 mg of caffeine and a blend of supplements believed to enhance cognitive performance.
  8. Zoa Zero Sugar Energy Drink: Backed by Dwayne Johnson, this drink offers various vitamins, minerals, and natural caffeine but contains artificial sweeteners like sucralose and Ace-K.

When to Seek Help: While these healthier energy drink options are a good alternative, they are still a temporary fix. If you constantly feel fatigued, consider examining other factors contributing to your low energy levels, such as hydration, nutrition, sleep, stress management, and potential underlying medical issues. If the fatigue persists, consult a doctor for a thorough evaluation.

In Conclusion:

Caffeine, when consumed in moderation, can be a safe way to boost energy. However, it's best to get your caffeine fix from coffee and tea rather than relying on energy drinks. If you do choose to have an energy drink, opt for sugar-free or low-sugar options that offer added health benefits. Remember, maintaining a balanced diet, staying hydrated, and managing stress are essential for sustaining natural energy levels.

Howard E. Stanton, MD

Howard Stanton, M.D., is a practicing internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

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