In the face of all-nighters and heavy workloads, college students might turn to energy drinks to keep them awake, but according to dietitians at the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, that may not be the best choice.
Liz Weinandy, a dietitian at the medical center, and Lori Chong, a dietitian and nutritionist at the medical center, said caffeine and sugar can raise health concerns for energy drink consumers and offered alternatives.
Weinandy said some of the ingredients in energy drinks pose a serious risk to the consumer.
“Looking at the safety perspective, they can be pretty dangerous by the amount of caffeine and other stimulants they contain,” Weinandy said. “They are really high in sugar, which is why people get boosts of energy while also bringing your blood sugar levels up.”
Weinandy said some people can handle more caffeine than others depending on their metabolism. Too much caffeine can lead to stress, anxiety, sleeping problems or insomnia, along with weight gain, Weinandy said.
Despite the health concerns, Weinandy said the Food and Drug Administration does not have a distinct category for energy drinks.
“The biggest concern of drinking these are the amounts of caffeine because they are poorly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration,” Weinandy said. “The FDA regulates how much caffeine is in soda, but if manufacturers classify energy drinks as a supplement, then they don’t really fall under any regulation.”
Aside from the caffeine, sugar is also to be avoided. Chong said energy drinks contain the worst kind of sugar to consume: liquid sugar.
Chong said this is because sugar is inflammatory, and drinking sugar is the easiest and quickest way to gain weight.
“The recommended limit for caffeine is 400 milligrams a day for an adult,” Chong said. “For sugars from other sources and not liquid, the recommended limit is 20 to 25 grams a day.”
Chong said her recommended limit for liquid sugar would be none at all.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website, Monster Energy Drink contains 40.7 grams of sugar and 123 milligrams of caffeine per 12 ounce can.
Adam Bardak, a fourth-year in industrial systems engineering, said he typically drinks sugar-free Monsters, Bangs or Reigns about three times a week.
“It depends on how my week’s going or if I feel like I need energy is when I drink them,” Bardak said. “I started drinking them in high school, when I’d have long nights.”
Unsweetened tea, black coffee, yerba mate tea and guayusa tea are some alternative options, Chong said. The guayusa tea is made from holly tree leaves, which have natural caffeine.
Chong said an energy drink called Runa has guayusa tea in it with no added sugars, but it is more expensive.
Weinandy also suggests water and milk for other possible alternatives.
Bardak said he doesn’t like coffee as an alternative source of energy but tries to monitor how many energy drinks he consumes and checks the nutrition labels.
“I think people don’t realize necessarily how much caffeine can be in them,” Weinandy said. “If they are drinking multiple a day then it can lead to a lot of health problems.”