by Marion Nestle
Jan 21 2013

Energy drinks: the new frontier for food advocacy?

I am an avid follower of NutraIngredients-USA.com, a daily newsletter for the food industry.  Today, it collects its recent articles on energy drinks in one place.

The makers of energy drinks have managed to get away with positioning these products as healthier alternatives to regular soft drinks.

They also have gotten away with being able to add vitamins and minerals to them that the FDA would not permit in regular Coke or Pepsi.

Unfortunately for them, some manufacturers upped the caffeine to the point where it might be making people sick.  Illnesses among energy drink users have focused attention on these products.

Are energy drinks the new frontier for food advocacy?  I think so, and I’m guessing NutraIngredients-USA does too.

Comments

  • Todd
  • January 21, 2013
  • 9:15 pm

Hi Marion, thanks for this post, and for all your hard work to make us savvier, healthier consumers. Truly there is an opportunity for more scrutiny because many companies are taking advantage of the supplement loophole.

However there are better, healthier alternatives in the space today. I manage R&D for a product (which I will withhold brand name because my intent is not to sell here) which has half the sugar than the big names, natural caffeine with amount listed from all sources, and a simple, GMO free ingredient statement.

People who want their caffeine cold have access to better, healthier choices. We are available in Whole Foods along-side some other respectable options in the category.

I would like to see the dialogue pivot from the current ethos that every brand with caffeine is bad / unethical / unhealthy. It seems like those driving the conversation just want the category to go away– that’s denial when we need evolution.

Energy drink makers create problems on so many levels. First, the formulation of the products themselves is problematic because of the variations in caffeine and other potential stimulants which may or may not be accurately stated on the label. Secondly, the marketing often misleadingly suggests or directly states that it will enhance the users’ performance (mental, physical, athletic, etc.). Third, and related, are the vitamin additives that imply healthful benefits from the products.

With claims of this nature being made, it is no wonder that the products are overused to the point where 20,000 customers required emergency room treatment after imbibing these beverages, I mean, dietary supplements.

Whether they predispose youth to abuse stimulants remains to be seen. That some of the products are yet another form of sugary drink is certain. However, the calories out stemming from a trip to the ER may in fact end up leading to energy balance.

  • Taylor
  • January 22, 2013
  • 7:25 pm

I cringe when I see people drinking energy drinks. It is scary what is allowed to pass for food these days. Thanks for putting this out there and raising awareness. We have some real food recipes if anyone ever needs them! I’ll surely be coming back here!

[...] Energy drinks may be the next front for food safety activism and regulation. In a largely unregulated industry, health-related issues continue to crop up. Marion Nestle at Food Politics links to a series of articles. If you use energy drinks to get through the day, it may be worth a look. Full list of links here. [...]

[...] presented in 2010 at the least 66 gun charges in 23 states, pertaining to gun control by specific mentally ill people, in line with the Law Center to Stop Gun [...]

Leave a comment