Energy drinks, scrutinized for effects on kids, tout organic ingredients
Energy drinks manufacturers are pushing their organic ingredients to compete in an industry under fire for its products' ill effects on children and adolescents.
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At least on face value, some of the natural drinks seem to be aiming for a different audience. Xenergy calls itself the "energy drink of the health club, not the nightclub." The company expanded its line this year to include energy drinks with tea or lemonade.Skip to next paragraph
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Ray Jolicoeur, vice-president marketing for Guru, says consumers of his product, which has been available in the United States since 2005, tend to be slightly more mature and educated. The entrepreneurs behind Runa say they are not looking for people who want "head throbbing, punched-in-the face energy" like some other brands.
Runa co-founder Dan MacCombie's energy drink hit the shelves recently around the country. It boasts its caffeine from the guayusa "super leaf" and supposedly provides as much caffeine as coffee with more anti-oxidants than green tea.
They join non-traditional energy drinks like Guru and Steaz, which share display space with the likes of aloe juice at Dean's Natural Foods in Albany. Owner Dean King said the drinks eliminate "ridiculous stuff" like artificial flavors and colors. The kick still comes from caffeine, but some consumers say it's different.
"You know how most caffeinated products you feel that surge come over you? And then you drop and you feel miserable? This is more of an alertness," says Cheryl Fairweather, a 36-year-old vegan and athlete from the Philadelphia area who drinks a daily can of Steaz at 4 a.m. before she trains.
"It doesn't have that overwhelming effect, like you're on edge," she says.
It's typical for the caffeine in natural energy drinks to come from organic and natural sources. But in the end, as Roland Griffiths, a professor of behavioral biology at Johns Hopkins University, notes, "caffeine is caffeine."
"It doesn't matter whether that compound is synthesized in a laboratory or is synthesized in a plant," he says. "It's going to have identical pharmacological, subjective and behavioral effects."
Guru says one 8.4-ounce can has 125 milligrams of "naturally occurring" caffeine. Steaz says a 12-ounce can of its energy drink contains 100 milligrams of caffeine from sustainably sourced ingredients. Ounce for ounce, that's in the ballpark of mainstream energy drinks, like Rockstar or Monster, which each deliver 160 milligrams of caffeine per 16-ounce can, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition advocacy group.
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The natural products generally do not make explicit health claims, opting instead to tout ingredients such as organic guarana or the lack of artificial colors. But Michael Jacobson, the executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, says words like "natural" and "organic" printed on a can make consumers assume the contents are good for you, even if that's not necessarily so.
"It implies that there's something helpful about them and it's totally vague," he says.