Energy drinks might seem like a better version of soda. They give you energy, after all, and isn’t that the same thing, say, trail mix does?
Well, the purported benefits of energy drinks are mostly due to clever marketing. “Soda and commercial energy drinks are both harmful to your health,” says Sharon Richter, RD, a nutritionist in New York City. “They’re extremely high in sugar, which can lead to weight gain and tooth decay, and increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease.”
On paper, soda and energy drinks not very different. Rockstar, a popular energy drink, contains 29 grams of sugar and 139 calories in an eight-ounce serving. Eight ounces of cherry cola offers a similar 30 grams of sugar and 110 calories. (Here’s what a nutritionist wants you to know about sugar.)
If you think these numbers are no biggie, consider that sugar-sweetened bevs are the leading sources of added sugar (a.k.a. empty calories!) in Americans’ diets, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2014 study in Diabetes Care found that drinking two 16-ounce sugary drinks a day—a habit that’s particularly common among boys aged 12 to 19—led to symptoms of diabetes and fatty liver.
But sugar isn’t the only thing to worry about, and that’s what makes energy drinks potentially worse than soda. This fizzy drinks contain high amounts of caffeine, as well as such other stimulants as taurine, ginseng, and gaurana, according to Richter.
“It’s generally recognized that consuming 400 milligrams of caffeine a day—which is about four cups of coffee— is safe,” says Richter. “Energy drinks, however, seem to affect the body differently.”
Cracking open an energy drink on the reg is associated with increased blood pressure and heart activity, and the risks increase if you drink them quickly, frequently, or with alcohol. (Bad news for lovers of Jager Bombs.)