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Piece of Mind: Are you energy-starved?

Posted: Thursday, May 9th, 2013

One of the joys of shopping at grocery stores is looking into other peoples’ carts. Are they stocking up or do they just need a few things? Why do they like seltzer water so much? Will everything in that basket be used in one meal? Those are just a few of the thoughts I have in the check-out aisle as I patiently wait my turn.

The other night two women about my age walked into the aisle behind me. They obviously were not “stocking up.” All they were purchasing were six energy drinks. I found myself awkwardly staring at the cans, wondering what part of the women’s diets the drinks constituted. The cans wouldn’t answer my question, but the women’s eyes clearly told me that I was being rude.

I guess they both just needed more energy.

Caffeine is becoming synonymous for “energy” in our diets. Recently Wrigley launched a caffeinated gum called Alert Energy, which has alerted the US Food and Drug Administration. Michael Taylor, an FDA deputy commissioner explained that “the only time that the FDA explicitly approved the added use of caffeine in a food was for cola and that was in the 1950s.” Because of caffeine’s growing presence in our foods the FDA is now “taking a fresh look at the potential impact that the totality of new and easy sources of caffeine may have on the health of children and adolescents.”

Everyone needs a pick-me-up from time to time. At least once a week I declare to my coworkers, “Argh, I need coffee!” Coffee is just one of the hundreds of caffeinated products used by 90 percent of adults and 75 percent of children on a weekly, and for many, a daily basis.

We seem to be increasingly energy-starved as a nation and caffeine helps. Researchers at Tufts affirm caffeine’s useful attributes: “Caffeine is known to boost the effects of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and acetylcholine. Dopamine, for example, is known to affect levels of concentration. It blocks adenosine receptors in the basal forebrain, which when not impeded, are what typically signal the brain when it’s time to go to bed. Caffeine also increases the release of catecholamines (such as adrenaline) via the sympathetic nervous system, which among other things can make your heart beat faster, send more blood to your muscles and tell your liver to release sugar into the bloodstream for energy.”

What’s new? You already knew that caffeine works. A more important discussion centers not on what caffeine does or doesn’t do, but why we have such a growing need to consume such large quantities of it. In my opinion, every day is not a “5 Hour Energy Day.” Every day is actually a 16 hour energy day.

I drink coffee because I like the taste. It’s social. It makes me happy. It makes me think of my sister and brother-in-law and my summers spent working in a coffee shop drinking the dregs in the pot at the end of the night (gross, I know).

I don’t drink soda or energy drinks because I don’t like the flavor and would rather spend my money on other items in the grocery store. I have a particular penchant for grape tomatoes.

I also know that coffee and other caffeinated beverages won’t provide me with lasting energy. Exercise, a healthy diet, and adequate sleep: these things will provide me with the energy I need to happily and productively get through each and every day.

The real problem is not that Wrigley is putting caffeine in gum. The real problem is that somehow marketers have been able to convince us that we are energy-starved and cannot get through a single day without help. That, dear reader, is just not true.

Gena Akers can be contacted at gena.leneigh@gmail.com.

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