Heart of the Matter – Energy Drinks

By June Shannon Nutrition News   |   20th Apr 2018

What are the concerns around energy drinks?

At the Irish Heart Foundation, we aim to provide accurate and evidence-based information on heart health to help you make informed decisions about your health. One of the questions we get asked is why are there concerns around energy drinks?

Earlier this year the supermarket chain Aldi became the first retailer in Ireland to ban the sale of energy drinks to children under the age of 16.

A 2016 report by Safefood into Energy Drinks in Ireland found that energy drinks and sports drinks now comprise more than 20 per cent of the soft drinks market in Ireland.

It also found that a typical small 250ml can contains 6 teaspoons of sugar per can which is equivalent to a full chocolate bar and the caffeine content of the (80mg caffeine) is the same as 1.5 bottles (500ml) standard cola or 2 (200ml) cups of tea.

According to Safefood, the high caffeine content of these drinks means that drinking two small cans and one small espresso of coffee drives an adult’s daily caffeine intake above recommended levels.

Since 2014 legislation is in place to state that energy drinks with caffeine content greater than 150mg/l are labelled as unsuitable for children and pregnant and breast-feeding women

A typical small 250ml can contains 6 teaspoons of sugar per can

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Energy drinks are not suitable for children under 16 and according to our expert dietitian Sarah Noone, there is inadequate evidence to decide a safe level of caffeine intake for children and adolescents.

“While drinking moderate amounts of caffeine shouldn’t impact your heart health, some people can be more sensitive to its effects. Children and young people are particularly vulnerable and can have an exaggerated response to caffeine as they will be less used to it. So, avoiding energy drinks is sensible to help to limit their consumption of caffeine. For young people milk and water are still the best choices for overall health,” Sarah advised.

High sugar content

Coupled with caffeine, energy drinks also contain a high level of added sugar and Sarah said that these additional calories with no nutritional value can lead to unwanted weight gain and potentially contribute to increasing levels of childhood obesity seen in Ireland.

Sarah explained ”energy drinks can contain around six to seven teaspoons of sugar in one 250ml can. Additionally, they are very easy to consume in large quantities. World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines recommend a maximum of 6 to 7 teaspoons of added sugar / day for 6-11-year olds and max 5 teaspoons for 4-6 years. To put this into perspective, one can of energy drink is over what a child should have in an entire day. “

“Although more research is needed to determine the impact these products can have on young people, it’s another example of why we need tighter controls on junk food marketing tactics to protect children from being tempted into making unhealthy choices.”

 

For young people milk and water are still the best choices for overall health

Sarah Noone, Dietitian , Irish Heart Foundation

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