Newsletters

Get Well+Being delivered to your inbox every Monday Morning.

Do Energy Drinks Live Up to Their All-Natural Claims?
We analyze the ingredients of four popular all-natural energy drinks to find out if they’re worth the gulp. By Melissa Romero
Do all-natural energy drinks live up to their health claims? Four nutritionists investigate their ingredient labels and find out. Photographs courtesy of Steaz, Guru, Starbucks, and Jamba Juice.
Comments () | Published April 10, 2012

We don't need to tell you why energy drinks like Red Bull are a bad idea--and don't even get us started on the AeroShot caffeine inhaler. But what about those drinks that claim to give you an all-natural burst of energy? 

While most of their ingredients are a little more acceptable, nutritionist Danielle Omar says, "I don't think there's really a great reason to use energy drinks. In my opinion, they're just a Band-Aid solution to a bigger problem."

Still, that won't stop a lot of people who love the stimulant effect. If you must guzzle down one of these drinks, beware of consuming them in large quantities over a short period of time--Omar says they can cause caffeine toxicity, anxiety, heart arrhythmias, and even stroke. Don't say we didn't warn you.

We asked Omar and other registered dietitians to analyze the ingredient labels of four popular "all-natural" energy drinks to find out if they live up to their health claims. While they all agree there are better ways to get an energy boost, here's what they had to say about each one. 

Jamba Juice All Natural Energy Drink

This smoothie joint claims its natural energy drinks will give you the boost of traditional energy drinks without the "hard-to-pronounce ingredients," but nutritionist Katherine Tallmadge says they're actually "quite unnatural." They don't contain the juice each flavor claims to--the first ingredient on each one is apple juice, "which is an inexpensive way to sweeten things. If I'm buying strawberry juice I want the only ingredient on the label to be 'strawberries,'" she says. Plus, they contain both sweetener and caffeine. All in all, they're better than soda, Tallmadge says, but still disappointing. 

Starbucks Refreshers

The coffee chain's newest beverage endeavor comes in three different flavors--raspberry-pomegranate, orange-melon, and strawberry-lemonade--but all the drinks' main ingredient is green coffee extract. At 60 calories and 40 to 55 milligrams of caffeine per can, Refreshers contain half the calories of Red Bull, and most of the ingredients on its list are actually recognizable, says dietitian Kait Fortunato. "I like how they use real fruit juice, B vitamins, and coffee extract. And, there's no added glucose, sucrose, or artificial sweeteners."

Steaz Energy Drinks

Steaz prides itself on creating all-natural, organic, and fair trade tea-based drinks, and Danielle Omar says that's certainly a bonus. Plus, compared with other energy drinks and even an espresso at Starbucks, Steaz's energy drinks contain much less caffeine and therefore offer a milder choice. That said, if you really need a boost of energy, Omar says you're probably better off drinking a cup of green tea, which this drink contains anyway. "The drink is still mostly water and sugar, which are the first and second ingredients," she points out. 

Guru Natural Energy Drink

With just ten calories, this drink appears to be a tad healthier than most energy drinks, says registered dietitian Sonja Goedkoop. However, she advises caution in drinking it "because it contains a number of herbal supplements, which may cause undesirable effects." Guzu lists ingredients such as gingko biloba and guarana as having certain health benefits, but overall their claims have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA. "My advice would be to stick to beverages and foods with ingredients we understand a bit better," Goedkoop says. Not to mention a 12-pack of these drinks is $30, so Goedkoop says drinking a cup of coffee or eating an apple is a much cheaper, better option.

Categories:

Health Nutrition
Subscribe to Washingtonian

Discuss this story

Feel free to leave a comment or ask a question. The Washingtonian reserves the right to remove or edit content once posted.
  • Daniel

    Sorry Sonja Goedkoop but you are very wrong with your statement about guru. Those two ingredients are greatly benifitial to ones health and surprised you want to avoid them cause you don't understand them. The FDA is not in our best interest and a lot of health super foods are not approved by FDA. Try and go outside the words of a US government company and learn from real nutritionist. Ginkgo Is so good and u think they should avoid it and take coffee instead? Coffee and caffeine aren't good regardless if they'd ghat have some benifitial the long term is always bad. So if your going to be a dietitian don't give these suggestions it's like telling a kid oh no don't drink coconut water have some soda. -.-

  • Now it makes you think. Why not try kava kava instead?

  • Richard

    Help me teach my students. I teach that energy comes from calories and that technically 40 calories will give them energy for a few minutes. I teach that the caffeine stimulates their CNS and they will "feel" energized, but they should not count on these drinks as energy for activity. Am I on the right track?

  • melrom

    Hi Richard. You're certainly on the right track. While energy drinks can give you a temporary burst of energy, all the nutritionists and registered dietitians interviewed for this story agreed that they're not the best way to get that boost. These all-natural energy drinks, however, are still a better choice than drinks like Red Bull. Exercise and eating right are almost always the best way to have lasting energy—one study proved that walking for 10 minutes gave participants an energy boost that lasted up to two hours. Hope that helps!

blog comments powered by Disqus

Posted at 10:00 AM/ET, 04/10/2012 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Washingtonian.com Blogs