Who was going to tell Dietrich Mateschitz, founder of Red Bull, who when he ran into Thailand with the popular Karting Daeng tonic that was sold at gas stations to prevent drivers from falling asleep at the wheel, was taking the first step in creating a business empire.
In 1984, Mateschitz founded Red Bull GmbH and. April 1, 1987 Red Bull Energy Drink It was first sold in Austria, the country of origin of its founder. That day not only a new product was launched, but also a new category: energy drinks.
This food group has dramatically increased its sales in recent years. According official data of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), 68% of teenagers (10 to 18 years old) in the EU consume them. Among them, 12% have a “chronic high” consumption of 7 liters per month, and another 12% “high acute” consumption. What impresses most: 18% of children between 3 and 10 years drink energy drinks.
The commercial success of these drinks lies in the objectives that their consumers pursue. Many athletes use them daily to try to increase their physical performance. People who must stay awake, not to fall asleep. The students, to study. Those who leave the march mix them with alcoholic drinks.
Few food products exist in the market that supposedly cover such diverse needs.
Taurine is irrelevant
But for a few years, energy drinks are in the eye of the hurricane. On the one hand its benefits are in question and, on the other, there are many specialists who warn of the risks of its consumption. To clarify the situation, the first thing we must do is analyze its composition, based on four groups of components.
Most energy drinks contain a series of “star molecules” that, in theory, provide them with high added value. I mean the taurine, the ginseng and the carnitine.
The European Food Safety Authority, the top European food agency, does not think alike. Its Panel on Nutrition, Dietetics and Allergies has made it clear in numerous official reports that, to date, no relationship has been demonstrated between the consumption of these “star molecules” and any healthy property.
The best known, taurine, has no positive effect on cognitive, cardiac and muscular functions. Nor does L-carnitine help faster recovery from muscle fatigue, or repair skeletal muscle tissue, or increase resistance capacity. The same happens with the famous ginseng. None of these “star molecules” has a positive effect ( neither negative ) on the organism.
Its presence in energy drinks is irrelevant.
Vitamins are unnecessary.
The second group of molecules is made up of a series of vitamins of group B (niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12) that have been positively evaluated by the EFSA Nutrition, Dietetics and Allergy Panel, by providing some healthy properties.
However, according to dietary intake surveys it is absurd to consume a supplement of these vitamins. We Spaniards arrive at their required daily levels, since they are found in the foods we consume every day at a much cheaper price.
First problem: caffeine
The third component of energy drinks is the famous caffeine, an alkaloid discovered by the German chemist Friedrich Ferdinand Runge in 1819. It has the ability to excite us, and the EFSA recognizes that 75 milligrams (mg) improve cognitive processes that increase attention, Memory and learning
Most energy drinks contain a caffeine concentration of 32 mg / 100 mL. When usually presented in cans of 500 mL, the total amount of caffeine in a single energy drink is 160 mg. This represents more than double the 75 mg set by the EFSA as a minimum limit to be effective.
It should be made clear that this large amount of caffeine present in 500 mL energy drinks can have serious health consequences. According to the EFSA, a 13-year-old teenager, with an average weight of 47 kg, should not consume more than 147 milligrams of caffeine a day, an amount that is exceeded by a single can.
I will go further. The consumption of two cans exceeds the acute caffeine overdose, established between 300 and 400 milligrams, depending on the body weight and tolerance level of each person. Once we exceed that threshold, symptoms of restlessness, nervousness, insomnia and gastrointestinal disorders appear.
The high caffeine content of these products has a dangerous indirect effect. Many people combine energy drinks with alcohol when they leave. Well, the depressing effect of the central nervous system caused by alcohol, which gives rise to the dream that leads us to stop drinking, is masked by the high amount of caffeine that energy drinks carry. As a consequence, these people do not feel sleepy, continue drinking, and increase the risk of ethyl coma.
Second problem: sugar
The ingredient that worries me most about these products is sugar. According to WHO , the consumption of added sugars should not exceed 50 grams of sugar daily. According to the same organization, if this figure is reduced to 25 grams, additional benefits will be obtained, due to the direct correlation between excessive sugar consumption and obesity, diabetes, caries and cardiovascular diseases.
That said, the amount of sugar in a single 500 mL can of most of these energy drinks is almost 75 grams, triple the daily sugar recommended by WHO.
I will be more explicit: 75 grams is the sugar that 15 sachets contain. Brutal.
Third problem: calories
Let us now analyze the caloric value of an energy drink. While a can of a normal soda has an energy value of 139 Kcal, a 500 mL canister of an energy drink provides almost 300 Kcal, more than double.
These figures are very worrying given the high percentages of obesity of the European population. More if we take into account that the usual consumers of energy drinks are children and young people, two groups that present high levels of obesity in our country.
Six urgent measures
Given the worrying situation that I have explained in this article, I think that urgent measures must be taken. In my modest opinion, these are the most urgent.
The term “energy” drink should be prohibited. It clearly misleads the consumer, making him believe that he will give an extra and healthy contribution. Nothing is further from reality.
The composition of energy drinks should be reviewed. The large amount of sugar it carries, added to the high doses of caffeine, makes them nutritional pumps. It is true that the light version is not so harmful, but I do not recommend it for two reasons. First, its high sweetness. Second, when a light version does not exist in an establishment, the normal version is usually acquired.
It is urgent that the European legislation regulating the advertising of these products changes. It is not acceptable that they can advertise in their packaging that their consumption benefits health by the presence of a ridiculous amount of vitamins that we usually find in traditional food, obviating the presence of unhealthy ingredients in high concentrations. This commercial strategy is what is known as nutritionism, and it must be eradicated.
The access of certain groups to this type of products must be restricted much more. It is not possible for boys and girls of any age to acquire these nutritional pumps without any kind of obstacle. We would not be the first country to take action. In Lithuania and Latvia, the sale of energy drinks to minors is prohibited since 2014 and 2016, respectively.
You have to increase the taxes that apply to sugary drinks. It has already been shown in many countries that this measure, which should also be extended to other insane products, is effective in improving public health.
Years ago, tobacco and alcoholic beverage companies were banned from sponsoring sporting events. The same should be done with energy drinks. The great athletes, who are imitated by millions of young people, should not lend their image to these types of products in exchange for million-dollar contracts. Young people are a population group that is very vulnerable to advertising and, observing that their idols promote consumption, they may think they are healthy or that they improve sports performance, which is not true.
Dear reader, the high consumption of energy drinks has become a public health problem. Let’s put an end to this nonsense before it is too late.