Rockstars, Monsters, and Red Bulls, Oh My! What in the heck are we consuming? Part 1


redbullphoto from shutterstock


I don’t think it is news that energy drinks are sold in local stores across Canada.  Or that young people are consuming them.  Or even that these drinks have high levels of caffeine in them.

But have you ever read the ingredients?  Have you read the disclaimers?  What are the health implications involved? How are the high caffeine levels affecting our youth?

I went to our local corner store with my teenage daughter recently and happened to look at a can of Rockstar.  I was horrified when I read the disclaimer and concerned when I read the ingredients on the back.

My daughter told me the kids at her middle school buy them and consume them regularly.  Last week, she said, a student had already drunk three Monster drinks before 9 in the morning and was too shaky to play his guitar in music class.

At my workplace, my 20-year-old welder told me about the jager bombs the people his age drink at parties, mixing these highly caffeinated beverages with jager.

I had to know more.


rockstar2contributed by author

I reached out to CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and to my surprise and delight, I received a response. One of his producers informed me that Dr. Gupta has covered this issue quite a bit. He shared one article with me, about  What that energy drink can do to your body

According to this article, health experts are generally concerned about the safety of these drinks while the American Beverage Association stands by their safety.  Here is a shortened version, quoting what I found to be most interesting….

“Most energy drinks typically contain large amounts of caffeine, added sugars, vitamins, legal stimulants such as guarana, taurine which is an amino acid that’s naturally found in meat and fish, and L-carnitine, a substance in our bodies that helps turn fat into energy.

Overall, the concern is that these vitamins, amino acids and herbals are often in higher concentrations than naturally in food or plants, and the effects when combined especially with caffeine may be enhanced.”

The American Beverage Association issued a statement from the group that said many people around the world have safely consumed energy drinks for more than 25 years.

“The fact remains that energy drinks have been extensively studied and confirmed safe for consumption by government safety authorities worldwide including a recent review by the European Food Safety Authority. America’s leading energy drink manufacturers voluntarily go beyond all federal requirements when it comes to responsible labeling and marketing practices, including displaying total caffeine content — from all sources — on their packages.”

In conclusion, the safety of energy drinks is currently a matter of debate among health professionals and health authorities.

The caffeine content however, is measurable and well studied.

I reached out to Laura Kalina, a Registered Dietitian, Nutrition Coach, Food Systems Advisor, and Business Mentor, known locally as the founder of Kamloops Food Policy Council.

Her voice on the phone was strong, passionate, and very articulate. She was unbiased with a focus on facts and education.  She sent me information about caffeine published by the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

Here is my shortened version:

“Caffeine is a stimulant that affects both children and adults with side effects such as irritability, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and afternoon sleepiness. These effects are more pronounced in children due to smaller body size.  Children who consume above max levels of caffeine have shown greater anxiety, inattention, restlessness, and emotional behaviour.

Health Canada’s maximum amounts of caffeine guidelines:

age 7-9, 62.5mg/day

age 10-12, 85 mg/day

13 to adult – 400 to 450 mg/day

For preteens and teens with hormonal fluctuations, caffeine can cause insomnia, restlessness, irritability, nervousness, headaches, tremors, extra heart beats, increased calcium leached from bones, breast tenderness, and more.”

I looked up the amounts of caffeine per energy drink for 3 common drinks found in our local stores.

1 can of Monster Energy Drink 160mg

1 can of Red Bull 80mg

1 can of Rockstar Energy Drink 160mg

So, back to the student in my daughter’s music class who had consumed 3 Monster drinks before 9am and was too shaky to play his guitar?  Well, you can do the math. My personal worry is that our children are not good at maintaining safe levels of moderation. Perhaps 1 drink is not bad – but 3 would appear to be dangerous.

What happens when you combine energy drinks with alcohol?  You get what our youth are calling ‘Jager Bombs’, a dangerous party drink.

To be covered in Part 2 of Rockstars, Monsters, and Red Bulls, Oh My! What in the heck are we consuming?





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