Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Energy Drinks - Marketing Hoopla Triumphs!

Energy Drinks are basically sugar-water.  But many folks think they are healthy or provide you with "energy" and not just Type-II diabetes.

Energy drinks have taken off in the USA in recent years.  I first became aware of them because my younger friends would go to raves and take drugs (Ecstasy) and dance all night and, well, run out of energy.  Drinking a sucrose solution would restore their blood-sugar levels, and they could dance some more.

My young friends told me that these drinks had "electrolytes" in them, which of course, is nonsense.  Yes, they have trivial amounts of various chemicals, vitamins and the like.   And they also have huge doses of caffeine in them as well.

But youth being youth, they will buy anything advertised heavily on television, or promoted at a youth-oriented event.  If there are jet-powered monster trucks on display, you can bet the folks at Red Bull have a tent there, if they are not outright sponsoring the event.

What is the harm in these sort of drinks?  Well, the basic harm is the triumph of marketing over truth.   Sugary caffeine-laden drinks are bad for you, whether they are Coca-Cola or Coffee with three sugars.   By marketing these drinks as "Energy" drinks, they imply that they are some sort of drink for healthy people and athletes, and are good for you.

And of course, the granddaddy of these sort of drinks was Gatorade, which was sold to our generation as a healthy sports drink, when in fact it is basically sugar-water with a little salt thrown in.  My "rave" friends relied on this drink before the more trendy "energy drinks" hit the market.  Gatorade today seems sort of old-school and jock-ish, whereas Red Bull trends well with the 20-somethings.

Why are such drinks bad for you?  Well, drinking one can won't kill you, to be sure - not right away.  Smoking one cigarette won't kill you either, unless you set yourself on fire with it.  But if these types of drinks are part of a regular diet, they can cause a lot of problems, over time, including obesity and type-II diabetes.  There are about 110 calories in the small 8-ounce can of Red Bull, which is on par with Coca-Cola in that same size (a size that you would be pained to find in the supermarket!).

110 calories doesn't sound like a lot, but for a 2000 calorie-per-day diet, it represents a significant amount - over 5% of your caloric intake.   And you realize this when you start counting calories and realize you have only so many allotted for a given day.   Throw in an extra 100 calories a day, and you will gain about a pound a month, 12 pounds a year, and 120 pounds in a decade.   Excess calories go somewhere - right to your gut.

But it is the nature of those calories that is also troubling.  They are carbohydrates - sugars - which cause a sudden spike in your blood sugar level.   Your body responds to this by creating insulin, to manage the sugar levels.  And of course, if you are not actually using that energy the body hoards it by converting it to fat.   Yes, sugar makes you fat, not fat.  And yet so many dieters are on "low fat diets" and eat candy and can't understand why they gain weight.

No one would think candy is good for your health, of course, but these energy drinks (and soda-pop) are basically liquid candy.   And of course, the "energy bar" people have done a good job of selling candy bars as "energy bars" and implying they are health food.

Over time, a diet rich in these products will make you fat and angry.  Your blood sugar will peak and valley all day long - a situation you will try to remedy with more and more "energy drinks" and energy bars.  Eventually, your liver pancreas will throw in the towel and diabetes sets in.

Candy is dandy, but it is not good for you.  And once you are beyond age 10, really you have to stop eating this stuff on a regular basis.

Sadly, the typical diet for the typical American usually includes glasses of soda pop which are used to wash down potato chips and snack foods.   And while this is a horrific thing, at least the folks at Coca-Cola don't imply that their products are health food.   The younger generation buys into this designer sugar-water and their energy bars and thinks that they are being "smart" for "eating healthy" when in fact it is a horrible diet which will cause health problems down the road.

And "down the road" is not really more than a decade away.   When you are in your 20's, it is easy to think you are indestructible and these sorts of things are not bad for you.   But like a intractable credit card debt, it doesn't start out bad, it gradually gets there - over time, slowly, so you don't notice it happening at the time.

You can wolf down energy drinks and energy bars while hiking when you are 25, as you are burning a lot of calories and your body is young and elastic.  However, as you get older and spend more time behind a desk, your caloric burn tapers off, and the accumulated pounds start to add up.  Suddenly, you wake up one day, age 35, and realize you are fat.   And you feel lethargic, so you down another energy drink.   And a vicious cycle commences, one that many never recover from.

By age 45, the fat has set in big time, and you are less and less mobile.   Your blood sugar is all over the map, and you are well on your way to developing diabetes.  By age 55, you are a diabetic, and likely haven't seen your penis, without a mirror, in a decade.

Advertising and hype is just that.  When they promote this junk on television (or increasingly, on the Internet), you have to learn to think of it not as an informerical telling you about great new products to buy, but rather as a warning - police tape - roping off horrific deals.

Sadly, many never really "get" this.   Many folks, well into their 50's and even 60's, get their normative cues from the television - the advertisements.  They watch the ads and think, "Gee, that sounds like a swell product!  It will give me energy!  And it has to be better for you than soda pop, right?"

And yes, I was about that stupid, at age 25.  I believed in this fantasy world of the television, where unicorns roamed wild and pizzas were delivered in 30 minutes, or they were FREE!  You would think that by that age, having been continuously disappointed by the television for over two decades, I would have known better.   But alas, it took another two decades to finally see a glimmering of the truth.

Energy drinks are just junk food, packaged with the implication that they are good for you.   Just walk away from this junk.   If you lack energy, consider your overall diet.  Likely it is carbo-centric and what is causing you to sag in the mid-morning.   Adding sugar to the mix is just throwing gasoline on the fire....