To energy drink or not?

Energy drinks are very popular, especially with adolescents. They contain caffeine and other stimulants which may be harmful, a good reason to choose another beverage such as water.

Looking for that extra burst of energy in the middle of the day? How about your teenagers? Are you or your teenagers consuming energy drinks? The recent death of a 14 year old after she consumed two energy drinks has developed increased interest and concern about the safety of energy drinks, particularly for adolescents, teens and children.

Energy drinks contain caffeine and may also contain other stimulants such as taurine and guarana. According to the Mayo Clinic, excess caffeine consumption can lead to irritability, nervousness, insomnia, an increase in heart rate and increased blood pressure. Caffeine consumption can be harmful for children with certain health risks. Another reason for concern is the amount of caffeine in each type of drink varies considerably. The caffeine content is not always listed on the beverage container. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) provides a listing of caffeine content by specific energy drinks to help. In a recent report, the AAP has also recommended that children and adolescents should avoid energy drinks altogether.

Energy drinks and other sugary beverages, like soda, add extra calories without other important nutrients that children and teens need for growth. For example, one popular energy drink contains 130 calories and 34 grams of carbohydrates in an 8.3 ounce serving - higher than cola. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005-2008 (NHANES) found that about 16 percent of the calories in youth and adolescent diets come from added sugars. About 40 percent of these calories come from beverages. With the higher prevalence of obesity in the United States, reducing sugar consumption is an important strategy towards healthier weight.

The best way to avoid consuming caffeine and other stimulants from energy drinks and soda with added sugars is to find other ways to quench thirst and to energize. Of course, water is the best choice when it comes to quenching thirst. Try adding fresh fruit slices, such as lemon or orange, to keep in interesting for kids. Low-fat milk and diluted fruit juices are also nutrient-rich choices. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, reducing the consumption of added sugars is an easy way to lower calorie consumption without compromising on other nutrients that are needed by the body.

Physical activity increases our energy levels and burns calories too. The next time your children or teens are feeling tired in the middle of the afternoon, think carefully before reaching for an energy drink. Instead, suggest a short walk. Physical activity increases blood flow and results in feeling more energetic.

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