Energy: How to Get It Naturally

Energy products abound

You'd have to have been asleep the past few years not to recognize the surging sales of energy drinks. In fact, according to a May 23 story in The New York Times, "supercharged soft drinks [have] overtaken bottled water as the fastest-growing category in the beverage business."

Nutrition bars, too, have enjoyed more than their share of success. As noted in a recent press release promoting a study by Mintel, a Chicago, IL-based research organization, "Sales of products marketed on an energy platform, specifically energy bars, energy drinks, and liquid/powder protein drinks, advanced from $2 billion in 1998 to $5 billion in 2003, and are projected by Mintel to reach $8 billion in 2008."

There are also prescriptions medications that can be taken that can keep you awake when you’re feeling fatigued or drowsy. Provigil being well known out of the many other drug products.

The researchers also note that nearly 30% of Americans say they believe that vitamin- and mineral-fortified products such as energy supplements are a better way to eat a balanced diet than taking vitamins and minerals in pill form. Men are more likely to be consumers of energy supplements, but women are nearly as interested in these products as a better way to get vitamins and minerals. Also, adults age 18-34 are more likely than older adults to consume energy supplements.

According to William Grimes, the author of the Times piece, many of today's mainstream energy drinks are like the "demon spawn of Jolt Cola," a 12-oz. entry that never managed to hit it big. They all contain caffeine, guarana or a combination of both. Some also include ginseng, Ginkgo biloba, taurine, a slew of vitamins (headed up by C and the Bs), and, says Grimes, they deliver "the kick of a strong cup of coffee, which has about 80 mg of caffeine." Most are packaged in slim 8 oz. cans, are carbonated and are sweetened with sucrose or fructose.

If these drinks are beyond the pale for many consumers seeking to follow a natural lifestyle, they may be acceptable to others. They do, after all, boast vitamin and herb content, even if they are often heavy on sugar and stimulants.

Meanwhile, there are ways to get a perhaps more mild, but definitely more benign little energy boost. Pure fruit juice is loaded with nutrients, for example. And for those who worry that even that may have too much sugar, it can be diluted with water, or even with one of the increasing number of vitamin-infused water products now on the market.

When it comes to bars, here is some "solid" advice, as dispensed by a registered and licensed dietitian at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, TX: first, be aware that many bars contain hydrogenated oils; second, if the amount of saturated fat in a product is more than one-third of the total fat, stay away. Common sense also ought to tell any thinking consumer that without these oils, bars are going to be dry. Hard, too, maybe. Some of these products' makers, therefore, are kind enough to recommend drinking 812 oz. of water with the bar. That's a good instruction to follow.

Information in the paragraph above comes from a "Lunch Ladies" column in the January 6, 2004 edition of The Dallas Morning News. In that column, the authors, Gretchen Perrenot and Sunni Thompson, also recommend sticking with bars made of whole fruits and grains, with "ingredients you can pronounce." Hard to argue with that!

They also point out that some bars are specifically designed for individuals with diabetes and others may be particularly low in sodium, another desirable characteristic. Nevertheless, they warn, there may be tradeoffs in some of these products-such as the presence of hydrogenated oils. In order to make informed decisions, it is obvious, consumers must read product labels.

One more thing about the Lunch Ladies: they limited themselves to bars with a sufficient number of calories to be considered a meal rather than a snack. That introduces another sub-category of nutrition bars and energy drinks-meal replacement products.

Discussing this segment in the April, 2004 issue of Better Nutrition, Kimberly Lord Stewart reports, "Meal replacement products may look like candy bars and milk shakes, but they're actually a unique delivery system for nutrients-proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. ... [O]ne meal replacement bar or drink may contain anywhere from 35% to 100% of the recommended daily intakes (RDI) of vitamins and minerals." Therefore, users of these products should keep in mind that if they add a bar to a meal or a dietary supplement, they may be getting more of certain nutrients than they planned on.

Stewart calls protein-usually in the form or whey, soy or allergen-free and vegan sources such as rice and peas-the "cornerstone" of meal replacement drinks. Bars, she says, also include blends of whey, soy and casein. Once again, she cautions, be careful not to overdo it.

The same may be said for calories. Since many of these bars and drinks feature anywhere from 200 to 400 calories, it's easy to see how they could undermine a weight control program if they are eaten as well as, not instead of; full meals.

When it comes to choosing a meal replacement bar or drink, Stewart acknowledges, taste remains the number one consideration. "Unless you have a specific need for sports nutrition or serious weight loss, find a product that suits your taste buds and your calorie needs. That way, you're less likely to digress toward the nearest drive-through window at a fast food joint."