Delia A. Hammock, M.S., R.D.
The hottest new items in supermarkets are making amazing claims. But do they really work — and are they safe? GHRI investigates.
It can be hard to tell if you're at the grocery store or the pharmacy these days. More and more food products tout medical benefits that go way beyond basic nutrition. Called "functional foods," they contain specific ingredients that have been added to promote good health. But do they? You won't always be able to tell from the label. The Food and Drug Administration is considering new regulations for functional foods, but for now, here's what you need to know about the most popular items on shelves.
Last year, close to 200 energy-boosting drinks were introduced in the United States, with sales increasing by more than 50 percent in 2006 alone, report marketing firms. These drinks were once pitched primarily to extreme-sport athletes and young clubgoers, but some have now gone mainstream and are being marketed to — you guessed it — tired moms.
On the shelves: Tab Energy, Arizona Green Tea Energy Drink, Red Bull Energy Drink, Glacéau Vitamin-water Energy, SoBe Adrenaline Rush, Naked All Natural Energy 100% Juice Smoothie, and the just-released (and provocatively named) Cocaine Energy Drink.
Claims: "To keep you on your feet, not on your face," promises the Naked Energy juice. Generally, these products claim they'll get you going, improve concentration, and increase endurance, among other things.
Evidence: Many of the drinks are laced with caffeine or the caffeine-containing herb guarana. An 8.4-ounce can of Cocaine, for example, contains 280 milligrams of caffeine — about three times the amount in a cup of home-brewed coffee (which has about 95 mg). Caffeine is an effective stimulant; numerous studies have shown that when people take it at lower doses (20 to 200 mg), they report feeling more energetic, efficient, and alert. Some of the drinks also contain add-ins like ginseng, the amino acid taurine, and B complex vitamins, but there's little evidence that these offer any benefit.
Shopping advice: An energy drink may help you through an afternoon slump. But keep your daily caffeine total under 300 mg.
Watch out for: Too much caffeine, which can increase your heart rate and blood pressure, especially if you suffer from anxiety or hypertension. If taken too close to bedtime, caffeine can also keep you from falling asleep — and sleep has been proven to boost energy. Calories may be a problem too: Some products are so high in sugar, they may weigh you down more than pick you up. SoBe Adrenaline Rush, for example, has 260 calories and 66 grams of sugar (that's 16 teaspoons!). At that rate, you could have a brownie instead.