Energy drinks have long been the beverage of choice for the tired college student pulling an all-nighter or the road-tripper trying to make it home. However, these beverages came at a cost—jitters, headaches, and sugar crashes, to name a few. Seeking to stay relevant in an increasingly health-minded culture, companies are bringing big changes to energy drinks.
From ditching artificial flavors to focusing on plant-based ingredients, energy drinks are getting a well-deserved healthy makeover by making big changes to many of their main ingredients.
Traditional energy drinks are laden with copious amounts of added sugar—sometimes up to 41 grams, which is even more than a twelve-ounce can of soda. Consuming drinks with a high sugar content leads to a sugar crash in the short-term, but research suggests a myriad of long-term health effects as well. Some of these include cardiovascular decline, nervous system disorders, and even mental health difficulties.
Companies plan to replace these sugars with sweeteners made from fruits or honey, which might be gentler on the body's blood sugar levels.
Caffeine is the focal point of most energy drinks. Currently, most of this caffeine is derived from synthetic sources. Health gurus suggest that caffeine derived from plants, such as guarana seeds or coffee fruits, can help people feel energized without the negative "jittery" effects of synthetic caffeine.
However, some scientists disagree. Most energy drinks contain more caffeine than several cups of coffee, and this amount of caffeine can have adverse health effects, even when derived from natural sources.
Following national food trends, energy drink companies are also shifting to using more plant-based ingredients in their products. From caffeine sources to flavorings, many energy drinks will look to the "all-natural" label in the near future. Most of these drinks utilize herbs and teas, such as green tea, that promote mental clarity and lower stress—a welcome change from energy drinks of the past. if they do it right.
New energy drinks boast a myriad of vitamin enrichments, but some of the most popular ones are B vitamins. Including niacin (B3) and vitamin B12, these nutrients play a key role in energy metabolism, which is crucial to "unlock" all the energy potential within foods.
B vitamins help convert simple sugars in the body into energy. Water soluble, these vitamins pass through the body without leaving any toxicity behind.
With the knowledge that traditional energy drinks typically leave users feeling jittery, anxious, or stressed, the new generation of energy drinks will boast adaptogens. These are plant substances, such as roots or herbs, that help human bodies manage stress.
One study found that adaptogens help regulate the neuroendocrine system and can even help lower blood pressure.
Antioxidants have been touted for their ability to reduce free radicals and repair damage to cells for decades. Unfortunately, most energy drinks made from synthetic ingredients were not a rich source of polyphenols and did not have a high capacity to house antioxidants because of their composition.
However, with the shift to more natural ingredients, companies can include antioxidant-rich fruit juices or plant extracts.
Synthetic ingredients and artificial flavorings make up the taste profile of most energy drinks from the past. Many health-minded companies aim to change that in the newest lines of energy drinks by using only naturally sourced, plant-based flavors in their beverages.
While no official studies link artificial flavoring to adverse health effects, many European countries have banned several of the additives found in U.S. products, which worrys many Americans seeking healthier choices.
Amino acids, like B vitamins, play a key role in energy metabolism. Brands plan to add amino acids such as tyrosine, L-phenylalanine, and taurine to new products, which may help enhance energy production and energy quality within the body. A surprising study found that energy drinks made with taurine helped mice live longer and improved the physique and energy of middle-aged primates.
While scientists hesitate to extrapolate this to humans, it suggests that amino acids play a key role in metabolism, energy production, and muscle retention.
Energy drinks are notorious for being dehydrators. Caffeine is a well-known diuretic, which means it causes the human body to produce more urine. In small doses, this is not a problem, but the high caffeine content in traditional energy drinks enhances this effect in most people.
Brands have launched several new products that combat this effect by including electrolytes and reducing the overall caffeine content of their products. Several companies have even developed energy-boosting hydration powders that can be mixed into water.
The newest energy drinks on the market have changed significantly from their early-2000s counterparts—these beverages are made for the health-minded, modern consumer. While some of the changes are unsubstantiated, such as natural vs. synthetic caffeine, most have scientific backing indicating positive health effects.
Slightly more expensive than energy drinks of the past, these beverages could begin to offer a smart, healthful solution to those looking for a boost of quick energy.
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