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Hot Topic Tuesday: Should You Ditch Energy Drinks?

Are energy drinks the best for your 3pm pick-me-up? (Photo by Christopher Gallo)

Written by Deanna Cioppa, editorial intern 

The media has lit up in recent days over reports released by the Food and Drug Administration indicating that Monster Energy drinks may have been linked to five deaths and a non-fatal heart attack over the last three years. While no link has been proven yet, the mother of one of teenager who died after drinking the energy beverage two days in a row (a 24oz can of Monster Energy contains 240 mg of caffeine, while a typical 8 oz cup of coffee contains around 100 mg) has filed a lawsuit against Monster Beverage.

Part of the danger of energy drinks is the way they're marketed, says Sharon Richter, R.D. In fact, The New York Times reported recently that current FDA rules don’t require companies to indicate the level of caffeine in their beverages and allows them to market the drinks as beverages or dietary supplements. These drinks “are so attractive to kids, and it's not necessarily appropriate for them,” says Richter. Plus, it's easy to consume several cans of these drinks without thought during the day, and at 240mg per can, that adds up quickly.

So what about alternative, natural sources of energy? “A lot of people are low in terms of vitamin D and B vitamins,” says Richter. Doctors can test for low D levels, and Richter recommends taking a vitamin D supplement if the doc finds your levels are low. Not comfortable getting your nutrients from a supplement? You can also find the sunshine vitamin in certain fish, like salmon and trout, and fortified in milk and orange juice.

If you find that you’re not low on vitamin D but still experience an energy slump in the middle of the day, reach for green tea, says Richter. “There are a lot of benefits to green tea because its level of caffeine is not too excessive,” she says. Don’t forget to take a step back from the computer and get moving for a few minutes, either - taking a walk or doing jumping jacks for 30 seconds can increase oxygen intake and get blood pumping, which may provide a much-needed energy spike.

And no matter how much those cravings may kick in, try to steer clear of excessive sugar in processed foods like donuts and cupcakes. It’ll only bring on a sugar crash a few hours later. Instead, Richter suggests opting for a piece of fruit or an energy bar with simple, natural ingredients.

Now you tell us: Do you reach for energy drinks during a pick-me-up?