Energy Drinks: What You Need to Know to Choose Safely and Wisely

By Kate Geagan, MS, RD

Posted on | By Kate Geagan, MS, RD

For most of us, our days can feel like sprints, and energy drinks offer an alluring magic bullet to make it to the finish line: The promise of pep. To fight the 4 o’clock fatigue. To become that person that we know, deep down, we really are, if only life weren’t so hectic.

There are dozens of reasons women are reaching for energy drinks at record levels – essentially most of them boil down to some version of “not wanting to feel like a zombie by mid-afternoon.”

With a whole new crop of energy drinks being marketed specifically toward women, I recently joined Dr. Oz for a segment (watch the video) during which we tackled an interesting question: Are there cases in which it is okay to use an energy drink? And, if so, is a bottle, can or shot best? But, first things first: Are energy drinks even safe?

Think Before You Drink: Are Energy Drinks Safe?


In short, some are, some are definitely not. While some seem like an easy addition to a sound overall energy strategy (I’ll share those at the end), many energy drinks contain ingredients that I wouldn’t put in my car, let alone my body.

To give you that jolt of energy, many stack caffeine with a combo of other natural stimulants (such as guarana, yerba mate, green tea or others) and a hefty amount of sugars – giving us a “one-two” whoosh of energy. And many contain a slew of synthetic colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives, none of which I recommend.

It’s important to know that unlike soda or coffee, energy drinks are not regulated by the FDA –  making them the equivalent of the Wild West in the beverage aisle. Also, the FDA does not require that manufacturers list caffeine amounts on food labels.

Health experts recommend a maximum of about 400 milligrams of caffeine a day (a cup of coffee has about 135 milligrams of caffeine, a 12 oz. can of soda has about 40 milligrams). While some products may voluntarily provide this information (a good thing), many others do not. In fact, a new study by Consumer Reports found that 11 of the 27 best-selling energy drinks in the US don’t divulge how much caffeine is in their product. And of the 16 drinks that did list a specific amount, nearly one-third of them packed significantly more caffeine per serving than what was listed on the label.

Article written by Kate Geagan, MS, RD