Q: I’m nodding off during the afternoon and feel like I need a pick-me-up. But everything I read about energy drink seems to say they pose a risk to my health. Is there one that’s actually good for me?
A: Black coffee is our favorite energy drink, because caffeine delivers many benefits (alertness is the least of them!). If you stick with the basics, you’ll dodge health problems that can come with energy drinks packed with risky additives. To choose smart drinks to power up your day, follow these guidelines:
Capture caffeine’s power. Caffeine boosts energy and helps stave off heart disease, Parkinson’s, diabetes, dementia, and nine types of cancer. It also eases migraine, improves exercise performance, opens airways, and steps up concentration, memory and reaction time.
As an adolescent, your intake should not exceed 100 mg of caffeine per day. Home brews deliver 100 to 180 mg in 12 ounces. Chain coffee shops can double that dose. Eight ounces of green or black tea contain 30 to 80 mg. If you have an irregular heartbeat, avoid caffeine entirely. And although we are assuming this isn’t an issue for you yet, don’t have caffeine if you’re pregnant. It can affect the fetus.
Brew secrets of success. Drink filtered coffee. A paper filter removes substances that raise LDL cholesterol (the bad kind). Do not add milk or cream—the whey in dairy erases some of coffee’s benefits. And as we recommend in pretty much any situation, don’t add sugar.
Consider caffeinated water. Looking for an alternative to coffee? Bottled waters with caffeine (45 to 90 mg per 12- to 16-ounce serving) and no sugar can do the trick.
Skip energy drinks with additives and extra vitamins. If the label lists lecithin, creatine, taurine, phenylalanine, citicoline, tyrosine, choline or any other ingredient you don’t understand, say “no thanks.” Say the same thing to beverages that claim to contain amino acids without listing them. These can cause inflammation, boost blood sugar, and trigger dangerous reactions. Get your vitamins by eating five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily. If you’re really worried about it, take a multivitamin (we recommend taking half in the morning and half in the evening).