Wendyl Wants to Know:Making healthier choices
Monster Energy - $2.99 for 500ml
As parents, we all know energy drinks shouldn't be consumed by children. Yet they love them, and the drinks seem to be directly marketed at young teens with advertising using extreme sports, video games and hip hop music.
The problem is that a 12-year-old buying a drink to quench their thirst then ingests high amounts of caffeine and sugar. This brand was nominated to me by a bunch of 12-year-olds as the most popular in their group of friends. Let's see what is in it.
This tells us that this drink is mostly water, which is great - we should all drink more water. The water has been carbonated to make it fizzy.
As the second major ingredient, closely followed by glucose syrup below, you can expect this drink to be sweet, but nearly 12 teaspoons of sugar in one serving is just shocking. The nutrition panel lists 57g sugar per serving which is 500ml and that is about a quarter cup of sugar. This will be contributing heavily to the calorie content of this drink which is 969 kilojoules or about 250 calories. Most health experts recommend a daily intake of 40g so this is well over that amount in just one drink.
This is a fruit sugar, which is very sweet and made out of honey, tree fruits, berries, melons and some root vegetables. One study of energy drinks found that glucose and caffeine together can enhance behavioural performance during demanding tasks requiring selective attention but then another study found that neither glucose nor caffeine individually resulted in significant improvements.
Acidity regulator (citric acid, sodium citrate)
Citric acid is a common ingredient in most foods these days either as a preservative or in this case as a flavour enhancer to give the drink a tart flavour. Sodium citrate is a salt of citric acid.
I'm willing to accept that there is a natural flavouring in here, but I'm just not sure what the flavour is. Like most energy drinks this tastes a bit like cough mixture. It is berry? I have no idea.
Taurine is an amino acid or building block for proteins in the body. It is found naturally in meat and fish and some studies suggest that using it as a supplement can improve athletic performance and when combined with caffeine it can improve mental performance but this claim is controversial. I did find one study which tested 42 participants and found that their attention and verbal reasoning improved with a caffeinated taurine-containing drink. Our bodies can make taurine out of vitamin B6 and usually only vegetarians need a taurine supplement. It is safe to have 3000mg a day, so at 2000mg per serving this drink would seem to be okay.
Natural colours (Anthocyanins)
Anthocyanins are naturally occurring colours which may appear red, purple or blue and are found in grapes skins and flowers. This drink is a deep yellow colour so I'm not sure what usefulness this colour has.
Panax ginseng root extract
It's important to get your ginseng right. This one is the genuine Asian ginseng unlike American ginseng, Siberian ginseng and Japanese ginseng which are different plants. Panax ginseng has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years as an energy tonic, which is why it is in this energy drink. However one study found that at such small doses the ginseng had little therapeutic value. This drink contains 408mg of ginseng root and seed extract.
Preservatives (Sorbic acid, Benzoic acid)
Sorbic acid is a naturally occurring preservative and considered quite safe. Benzoic acid is also naturally occurring and found in fruits and berries.
This drink has a massive 160mg of caffeine per serving. An average cup of coffee contains 80-100mg so this drink is giving the equivalent hit of about two cups. Caffeine is well known as a stimulant and it takes 25 to 50mg for most people to report increased alertness and arousal as well as lower levels of tiredness. For most people 300mg a day is considered okay, but children should not ingest caffeine. The New Zealand Food Safety Authority advises that energy drinks and energy shots containing caffeine are not for children and young teenagers after findings that too much caffeine can cause dizziness, rapid heartbeat, irritability, anxiety, tremors and insomnia in children.
This will be why this drink carries a warning that it is not recommended for children.
Vitamins [Niacin (B3), B6, Riboflavin (B2), Vitamin B12]
These are all great vitamins for nursing a hangover if you are an adult, particularly Vitamin B6. The other B vitamins are useful nutrients.
I'm surprised to see this in here as it doesn't feature in other energy drinks I looked at. At 384mg a serving it's not too high. The daily recommended salt intake for a child is 5g.
This is a tasteless sugar-like substance (often used by drug dealers to cut their drug of choice). It occurs naturally in most fruits and is an important nutrient for our bodies but there seems to be no benefit to it being added as a supplement to food. In this drink it is in such a small amount that any benefit would be negligible.
Guarana seed extract
Guarana is basically caffeine in the form of Brazilian cocoa. There is 10mg of guarana in this drink so you can add that to the 160mg of caffeine
This is a naturally occurring chemical which is a popular ingredient in energy drinks as it is supposed to detoxify the body. The European Food Safety Authority found no adverse effects from consumption of energy drinks with this substance in them. There is 10mg in this drink.
This is an artificial sweetener probably in here to reduce the number of calories in the drink from the massive amount of sugar. It is accepted by our food standards authority and compared with other artificial sweeteners such as saccharin and aspartame it is thought to be a safer option by the Centre for Science in Public Interest.
This is more sugar, taken from wheat.
* Caffeine is an important component of energy drinks like this, which is great for your hangover but should not be consumed by your children.
* Additives such as taurine, ginseng and guarana are unlikely to be in high enough levels to have any health benefit.
* Nearly 12 teaspoons of sugar in one serving is far too high and well over the 40g most health professionals recommend.
* At 500ml, this is really two servings for a child, but is listed as one.
High sugar intake at this level is well known to cause health problems such as obesity and diabetes, not to mention other effects listed above. Caffeine is not something children, even teenagers, should be consuming yet many children can be seen coming out of dairies having just bought energy drinks. My advice is to educate your child away from the perception that these drinks are good for you because they have added herbs and use words like "supplements" and talk to them about why caffeine does not belong in their diet. A 500ml drink of Fresh Up Apple and Orange will still have 51g of sugar, which is high, but it won't have added sugar, caffeine or other additives and there is some nutrient value in the drink.