Functional Beverages

Improve your memory? Lift your mood? Relieve tension? Fight fat? Give you energy? A growing market of functional beverages-juice, tea, soft drinks, flavored water, isotonic drinks, enhanced with herbs, phytonutrients, and other functional ingredients-are marketed with promises to improve health. Do they offer benefits?

Most functional beverages aren't likely to offer benefits to most healthy people. Among the issues: Claims that aren't proven; for what we know and don't know about the ingredients (gingko, kava, ginseng, and St. John's wort, among many others), see "Dietary Supplements: What Are They?" in chapter 23. The amount of the added ingredient is neither standardized nor identified on the label. And their safety-optimal doses, interactions, and long-term consequences-isn't known.

Will "energy drinks" really give you more energy? High caffeine and "carbs" are the so-called power behind their marketing hype. It's not the ideal drink for athletes, or for "grab-and-go energy." Extra caffeine may give a boost at first, but with too much caffeine, performance may suffer; see chapter 19 for more about beverages for athletic performance. The concentrated sugar content can slow the body's absorption of water, so energy drinks aren't the best fluid replacers. And as a mixer in alcoholic drinks, the stimulating effect of caffeine may mask the effects of too much alcohol-a potential danger. Energy drinks sold as nutritional supplements, with the potentially dangerous stimulant ephedrine, were banned by FDA in 2004 although there have been legal challenges to this ruling.

Functional drinks won't counter dysfunctional eating or living. The best approach for health and for feeling energetic? Healthful eating, regular physical activity, enough rest-and learning to deal with stress. The best fitness drink with moderate exercise: water!

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