Let’s Curtail the Glamorization of Caffeine

caffeinated club

All over Chicago I’m seeing billboards for “guilt-free” caffeine.  It’s a new campaign for Caffeinated Club, a calorie-free club soda with the same amount of caffeine as a can of soda. The local company Rocky’s Beverages, LLC, is aiming to transform the way America gets its daily caffeine.

Caffeinated Club® is the perfect choice for every caffeine lover at all hours of the day. This unique beverage can easily transition from a simple morning alternative to coffee, to a convenient midday pick-me-up, to a light and refreshing alcohol mixer in the evening.Without sugars, colors, artificial sweeteners, or calories, this is an appealing alternative for health conscious individuals. To sum it up, “We make club soda fun!”

Then this weekend, I find the caffeine-spiked Aspire drinks at a Chicago street fair. I chatted with the folks handing out samples of the beverages who told me that each can burns 200 calories. Oh really?  Here’s how the website describes the product:

First launched in the UK by two friends and fast becoming a globally recognised brand. Aspire is a tasty, refreshing, lightly carbonated soft drink now available in two flavours, Cranberry and Apple with Acai. It’s unique blend of good-for-you ingredients aid calorie burning, weight loss, body fat reduction and target the main cause of cellulite.  Aspire can be drunk any time of day, as replacement for your morning tea/coffee, during lunch/dinner, before, during or after any form of exercise.

Described as “Created by Nutritionists. Backed by Scientists,” the drinks contain 80 mg of caffeine per can from green tea and guarana seed extract, and are fortified with a ton of B vitamins — including 200% vitamin B6, 70% niacin, and 70% vitamin B12. The brochure handed out with the samples claimed “Aspire increases metabolism through thermogenics, burning calories and giving you the energy to do the things you do.”  Seems like one study was conducted with 20 individuals, as reported here.  The analysis:

Sounds very good, but basically there was only a 27 cal increase in calories burned over three hours, compared to a control group having a drink with similar calories but no other ingredients (e.g. green tea). To put this in perspective, if you laughed for about 10 minutes you’d probably burn the same calories. The main point is that the 200 calories are not extra calories burnt, they are background calories, which just goes to show you that clever marketing makes all the difference! By all means drink it, but don’t expect the weight to fall off, and if you consume a lot, then it may have the reverse effect!


I’m growing so weary of claims like this, especially for a product that may carry some risks. That’s why I’m happy to see Oregon, Washington and Vermont announce last week that they’re filing  a lawsuit against makers of the popular 5-Hour energy drink, accusing the company of misleading advertising.  The claim is against Living Essentials LLC and Innovation Ventures LLC, makers of the highly popular energy booster. Attorneys for the states want a permanent injunction against the parent companies’ misleading marketing and are seeking civil penalties. The three states join 33 others investigating the product’s advertising claims. According to the suit, 5-hour Energy leads consumers to believe the energy drink’s potency is the result of a unique blend of ingredients. Instead, the suit contends, the drink is effective thanks to a concentrated dose of caffeine.


5-Hour Energy has been linked to 13 deaths, so this is serious stuff.  Now there’s a new FDA warning about powdered pure caffeine that’s being sold in bulk bags on the internet after the death of an Ohio teen.  These products are 100% caffeine; a single teaspoon of the powder contains as much caffeine as 25 cups of coffee. The FDA said it’s investigating caffeine powder and will “consider taking regulatory action.” In the meantime, the agency said it’s recommending consumers stay away from it.


The Center for Science in the Public Interest is calling for FDA to keep powdered caffeine off the market.  Unfortunately, there are many online companies like Read Pure  that are making it easy to buy — and tempting teens and adults with claims about increased alertness and attention, along with messages about lowering your risk of heart disease and diabetes, and increasing metabolic rate.

So if you like cheap, safe and pure caffeine that you can add to your meals or drinks, than caffeine powder is exactly what you need. This will restore your alertness and give you energy so you can continue working/studying for the rest of the day.

Scary stuff.  Unfortunately, people are putting a lot of faith into caffeine-containing ingredients like green tea and green coffee beans.  Then it’s easy to jump to the idea that more is better.  I’m hopeful this cycle will stop.   Enjoy your cup of coffee or tea.  Drink “real.”  Don’t buy up products that are heavily fortified with these isolated forms of caffeine.  And step up your activity to increase the amount of calories you burn.  Don’t expect any “calorie-burning” drink to make a big difference.  Lastly, spread the word about the dangers of powdered caffeine.  This has got to stop.

What is going on with caffeine these days?  As CSPI’s Jim O’Hara said:

…the Center for Science in the Public Interest wrote FDA in June on the need for the Agency to prevent harms from caffeine-laced energy drinks by issuing a public health warning against their consumption, especially by youths, limiting the amount of caffeine in those products, and slapping a warning label on them. The overuse and misuse of caffeine in the food supply is creating a wild-west marketplace, and it’s about time the sheriff noticed and did something.


Images: Caffeine powder from Read Pure, 5-Hour Energy from Tom Gao on flickr

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