Drinking Trouble

March 27, 2012 in Diabetes Management, Foodland, Health, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

Many years ago, when someone offered a non-alcoholic beverage it was coffee, tea, milk, fruit or tomato juice, water (you know – plain old H20), or an occasional soda pop. In addition to those old standbys, now there are energy drinks, ready to drink (RTD) tea and coffee, functional drinks and sports beverages, added to the jillion types of soft drinks, fancy waters and fruit beverages.

Soft drink containers have crept up from the original 6½-ounce bottle, to a 12-ounce can, then to the 20-ounce bottle and now, of course, you can pick up a half-gallon cup at the convenience store. In addition, at many restaurants, if you order a soft drink, you get as many refills as you can drink, at no extra charge.

Elaine Watson reported in Food Navigator on March 21, 2012, that Rodney Sacks the CEO of Monster Beverage Corporation said: “The days of energy drinks being a niche category are long gone. Energy drinks are the soft drinks of many generations ago. They are innovative, cutting edge, cool and premium.”  Translation: they’re a way to make a huge load of money with cheap ingredients - music to the ears of beverage processors. Sacks said that that the energy drink category has unfairly garnered a lot of bad press……  Read on to see how unfair it is. He continued with: “There are still a lot of misconceptions, ignorance and guessing about the energy drinks category.”

Make up your own mind; check out the ingredient list of Rehab by Monster (Note: glucose, caffeine and a bunch of supplemented nutrients). It would be a cold day before I’d recommend this type of product as a viable choice to “bring you back after a hard day’s night.”  Of course I’m biased, I’m concerned about health. This is not a healthy choice in my humble opinion! Business and making money are really the only purposes for energy drinks.

Sugar and all its relatives

It is true that glucose, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup and other forms of sugar do deliver energy. But it really is a very poor way to get calories/energy. The calories are empty (don’t provide nutrients) and cause your pancreas to squish out a quick insulin spike that will crash you right back down soon after the spike subsides. This style of roller coaster blood sugar is a ridiculous idea – an unhealthy lifestyle. Bonnie Liebman says, “Growing evidence suggests that added sugars aren’t just empty calories. They’re harmful calories.”

In this piece I’m going pass lightly over the correlation with metabolic syndrome and pre-diabetes. You can read about that in other blogs. I do, however, want to mention new research that has just come out of Harvard School of Public Health. Lawrence de Koning et al, have found stunning statistical evidence linking one sugar-sweetened beverage daily with a 20 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease in men.  The daily drink they refer to is a 12-ounce serving of regular soda, fruit drinks or other sugar-sweetened beverages. This study was tracking nearly 43,000 male dentists, pharmacists, physicians, veterinarians and other health professionals age 40 to 75 for 22 years. Regarding women, the 2009 Nurses’ Health Study, did find that women who drank one or less than two sugary drinks per day had a 23 percent increased risk of a heart attack. So ladies, don’t head to the Rehab by Monster, or any of the sugary drinks, for that matter, regardless of how many vitamins, and drops of so-called superfruit juice, may be in it.

Dr. Frank Hu, one of the researchers in Koning’s study, cited above, commented on the finding that a relatively modest daily consumption of sugary beverages (12-ounces) was associated with an increased risk of heart disease. “(Sugary) Drinks should be treated as a treat, not for all the time.”

The researchers spell out where to look for the sugar-sweetened beverages – they include: regular soda (not diet), fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks and sugar-sweetened water. In addition, we should limit fruit juice to no more than 8 ounces per day. Harvard University’s Vasanti Malik says, “The sugars in juice are natural, but it’s still a large amount of sugar.” In their study, they saw, “an increased risk of diabetes with juices but not whole fruit.”

Sugar advocacy groups have been quick to point out that, although sugary drinks are connected with an increased risk of diabetes, weight gain, high blood pressure, heart disease and a number of other chronic diseases, it does not prove that sugar is what is causing it. This is a true statement about proving causation. The research has shown an association with sugar intake; but including sugary drinks every day may simply indicate less healthy lifestyles. It may be that those who choose the sugary drinks are also less apt to eat well overall. Too much sugar in the diet may just be a marker for a lower overall quality of diet. So when more research is in, the ‘sugar people’ are either going to have to face up to evidence that their product is a cause, or that it is usually found in bad company (or both).

Beyond the rollercoaster effects on our blood sugar, the increased heart disease risk, or even for the direct addition of the extra calories, liquid calories may not satiate as well as solid foods. You can chew through solid food  calories and quell your hunger, but if you drink those calories, you will still be hungry for more. One hypothesis for the weight gain in our country is that so many additional calories are being consumed in drinks, leaving us hungry for more and more. Beverages are an important vehicle for sugar delivery; sugar-sweetened beverages are the largest contributor of added sugars AND lack a hunger compensation mechanism for the liquid calories. It appears that excess calories from solid foods may be compensated by eating less later in the day; but that doesn’t seem to happen with excess calories from liquids.

Caffeine and vitamins

The producers of energy drinks try hard to ride the wave of fads and fancies that influence consumer demand. Thus, on top of the caffeine, they go from one vitamin additive to the next and then on to a splash of the latest superfruit. Many of the manufacturers removed sugar after it was so seriously implicated in health and weight problems. Now some are removing caffeine – but not all the energy drink people.  Sugar with jolts of caffeine is the mainstay for many. Some are adding B vitamins – several thousand times your daily-recommended B12 and B6, plus 100 percent of your folic acid needs. This excess, in a marketing ploy that more is better, is a threat to health! B vitamins don’t work by a method that can make use of extra intake. Surplus B vitamins do not deliver any additional energy. You only need a small amount of B vitamins and ideally, the extra is just eliminated in the urine. However, the ideal does not always happen. If you take excessively high doses of B vitamins regularly, you may damage your peripheral nerves (nerves in fingers and toes, for example). Also, too much folic acid may increase your risk of cancer or mask deficiencies of other B vitamins. The bottom line: Don’t take more than 100% of the % Daily Value of a nutrient because some marketers are trying to convince you that the more vitamin additives, the better.

One category of energy drinks is Ready-To-Drink (RTD) coffee. You’d think that coffee would be a relatively safe choice. But some of the RTD products are spiked with ingredients like guarana (an herbal guise for an extra shot of caffeine – delivering about four times the caffeine as in coffee beans). Some of the energy drinks contain up to 141.1 mg of caffeine per serving and that compares to an average of 133 mg of caffeine for an 8-ounce cup of coffee. Maybe just a cup of old-fashioned Joe would be a far better choice. Have you noticed that coffee is now frequently served in rather large mugs? A cup of coffee was traditionally served in an eight-ounce cup; that meant that about 6 ounces were served, in order to leave a little room to not slosh it out and also, to leave a little space for an optional teaspoon of sugar and a little milk, if desired. We do so many things bigger now days – but not always better. Just for fun, you may want to wander around a little website called Over Caffeinated.

What can you do?

Reading the product labels to discover what you’re really drinking is becoming more and more important. If you’re concerned about getting vitamins or minerals; you may want to consider taking a daily supplement that does not exceed 100% of the US RDA. If you need more calories/energy eat a handful of nuts and a glass of water with a little lemon or orange slice; they will satisfy you for a while, because they have fat (good type of fat), protein and fiber. That will nudge your energy up more gradually and you’ll discover that you won’t be crashing back in a short time.

Consider a lifestyle that includes moderation. Getting enough sleep, being well nourished and regularly exercised really will improve your chances of long term health. I realize that the life style of “party half the night and try to make up for it with energy drinks” sounds cooler; but the ups and downs of chemical boosts will soon harm you; and you would be cheating yourself out of the joy of natural vigor and energy.