A Treatise on Processed Foods
Nutritional Analysis and Discussion of a Popular “Diet” Energy Drink Or
A Treatise on Processed Foods
By Laura Sheehan
April 8, 2018
In working with my clients, my approach as a nutritionist is generally toward recommending people consume more fresh foods in their whole form while at the same time reducing their intake of processed and refined foods. I let people pick the worst offenders on their own and find something better to replace it with. I try to avoid giving long-winded lectures on food quality because people can get lost in minutiae. What good is it, for example, to cut your beloved fried chicken out of your diet (at least partially a whole food), when you are still consuming large quantities of soda (not a whole food by any stretch)? Even worse, people will give up eating egg yolks for fear of cholesterol (they are a wonderful whole food!!), but continue eating candy bars with abandon (not even close to a whole food). These types of behaviors are the result of patchy information given by the media most people pay attention to, which cause them to lose sight of the forest for the trees.
So I get a little perturbed when people ask me “What do you think of such-and-such a product?” My responses are: is it highly processed? Does it have a lot of sugar? Tsk! You should be able to answer this! After a little bit of time working with me, people know better than to ask me these types of questions. Even so, just yesterday a long-time client asked me: “I’m not a coffee drinker, so what do you think about this XYZ energy drink to get me started in the morning?” I cringed, of course. The drink in question is a chemical cocktail with a lot of isolated and processed vitamin-y sounding ingredients. I thought, “just drink the coffee! It comes from a ground up bean, for heaven’s sakes.” But I couldn’t really tell her to do that, so I recommended she try out maté instead. At least maté comes from a tree and not a laboratory or factory.
And yet, in the world of nutrition, the in-depth discussion of the negative effects of processed foods and the (almost unknowable) effects that their completely un-natural hodge-podge of ingredients will have when combined in your body, becomes inevitable. Some of you may be surprised (although you should not really be that surprised, as I am human too) that I consume processed foods. Just today I found myself drinking a refreshing can of peach-tea flavored Monster Rehab.
The reasons I bought it: I was at Wal-Mart, it was late, Keith and I were very tired and I saw that there were only 3g of sugar per serving along with plenty of caffeine. With my recent opening of a new office, working full-time in the old office, and studying for my Master’s in Nutrition, this beverage seemed to be more of a necessity than a luxury. Plus, I have consumed this drink before and I like the taste.
So now I am challenged to answer some questions for myself: is Monster Rehab healthy? What are all these ingredients (and I count 25) for? What will happen to me when I drink this, either positive or negative?
I WILL NOT, and I repeat, WILL NOT engage in this type of exercise at length again. I hope you get the point. Processed foods are unhealthy, period. So after this, further yakking about it will not be helpful, just redundant.
Or will it?
|Filtered Water||Provides liquid. Dilutes contents to make drinkable.||Generally accepted as a necessity for life17. Can be toxic in large amounts.|
|Black Tea Solids||Provides a “tea-like” aroma||Black tea has potential health benefits15 but there is no mention if the tea “solids” might have the same benefits as the tea itself.|
|Glucose||Sweetener1, part of the “Monster Rehab Energy Blend”||A naturally occurring source of energy14. There are only 2 grams of glucose per serving.|
|Peach Juice Concentrate||Flavoring, Possibly a coloring1||In general, fruits are high in beneficial phytochemicals16. It is unclear how much of the nutrients will remain when the peach is consumed in this form.|
|Taurine||Part of the “Monster Rehab Energy Blend”, nutrient, also a flavoring agent9||Taurine in a non-essential amino acid with a wide arra of actions in the body9.|
|Citric Acid||Preservative1||A normal metabolite in the body, being part of the Citric Acid Cycle. Not dangerous to humans.5|
|Sodium Citrate||Emulsion stabilizer, buffer4||Not dangerous to humans. Has been used as a systemic alkalizer and to alkalize the urine.5|
|Phosphoric Acid||Flavoring, acidulant (give a sharp taste to foods)6||Can be toxic irritant or corrosive at high concentrations (not found as a food additive)6.|
|Magnesium Lactate||Source of dietary Magnesium10||Magnesium is a necessary mineral nutrient which performs many important functions within the body17.|
|Calcium Lactate Pentahydrate||Source of Calcium. Also a flavoring agent11||Lactic acid is a naturally occurring substance in the human body so it is of no safety concern11.|
|Caffeine||Part of the “Monster Rehab Energy Blend”||Reports vary as to the effects of caffeine. Some states it is not a safety concern at normal levels of consumption12. May cause spontaneous abortion in certain pregnant populations when consumed in large amounts 12. Caffeine has also ben shown to decrease insulin sensitivity13.|
|Mono-potassium Phosphate||Acidity regulatory, sequestrate (improves the quality and stability of a food; a preservative)7||May cause calcium loss when consumed in excess8. Luckily, there is plenty of calcium added to this drink, so, not to worry.|
|Potassium Sorbate||Preservative1||Recognized as safe by the FDA1. Causes genotoxic effects in lymphocytes in vitro22.|
|Sodium Benzoate||Preservatice1||Recognized as safe by the FDA1. However, a college student drinking this may report increased symptoms of ADHD23|
|Acesulfame Potassium||Sweetener1||Recognized safe by the FDA1. Has been found to alter the gut microbiome and cause obesity and reduced insulin sensitivity in mice24.|
|Sucralose||Sweetener1||Recognized as safe by the FDA1. Contributes to liver inflammation in mice25.|
|Concentrated Coconut Water||Flavoring? Source of electrolytes?||Coconut is a type of fruit and contains fiber and nutrients in its whole form16.|
|Natural Flavors||Adds a specific flavor1||Industry re-evaluates the safety of these flavorings every 10 years, so trust them, there are no human safety concerns21|
|Niacinamide (Vit B3)||Nutrient1||Necessary in energy metabolism18|
|Salt||Used widely to flavor foods26.||Recognized as safe by the FDA26 Sodium in an essential nutrient and is a critical electrolyte in regulating body fluids17.|
|D-calcium Pantohenate (Vit B5)||Nutrient18||B-Vitamin important in macro-nutrient metabolism18.|
|Gum Arabic||Thickener, emulsifier, or stabilizer2||As a dietary fiber. Gum Arabic may help reduce adiposity in type II diabetics27.|
|Ester Gum||Keeps oil in suspension in water, emulsifier3||FDA agrees more studies are needed to fully ascertain its safety; however extremely large amounts are needed to show toxicity in lab animals3.|
|Inositol||Part of the “Monster Rehab Energy Blend”||A naturally occurring sugar in cell-membranes; important in cell signaling potential chemopreventive effects20.|
|L-Carnitine L-Tartrate||Part of the “Monster Rehab Energy Blend”||Active in fatty acid metabolism19. Possible antioxidant and chemeprotective activities19|
|Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vit B6)||Nutrient18||Supports protein and carbohydrate metabolism, synthesis of red blood cells, synthesis of neurotransmitters18|
|Acai Fruit Extract||To add a “superfruit pucnch”||Has antioxidants; has been shown to reduce oxidative stress in men29>.|
|Goji Berry Extract||To add a “superfruit punch”||Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the goji berry contains lots of interesting chemical compounds and has potential health benefits28.|
|Cyanocobalamin (Vit B12)||Nutrient18||Performs several complex, important functions within the body18.|
So, after going through all that, what conclusions can we draw? Should anyone be drinking Monster Rehab? Some sources cite the dangers of energy drinks in general30 and even really, really, bad dangers of diet energy drinks specifically31. Not to say anything at all about the potential problems with synthetic nutrients32! Therefore I am forced to say that the answer is, “it depends.” It depends on how much you are drinking, your stage of life, if you have any medical conditions, what other foods you are consuming regularly, whether you are male or female, whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding, the circumstances of your life, etc. Whether you can or should consume these drinks also depends on a multitude of factors of which neither you nor I are aware, since not all the science has been done.
Can you see why I hate these types of questions? It makes me feel like a failure as a nutritionist if I can’t give you a “thumbs up/down” for a particular processed food item within five seconds. But how should I know? I could spend 12 hours researching that one item and all its little ingredients and still not get to the meat of whether it’s safe or good. Tell you what, why don’t YOU do the research, and tell ME whether you think it’s okay for you. Or better yet, just focus on a variety of whole, unprocessed, unrefined, natural, fresh foods in your diet. Humankind has survived for at least millennia on whole foods. Keep the processed foods to a minimum. You will be assured of their safety if you are barely consuming them. And it will save us both a lot of stress and aggravation!
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2. Sec. 172.780 Acacia (gum arabic). CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. U. S. Food & Drug Administration Web Site. Revised April 10, 2017. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/cfrsearch.cfm?fr=172.780 Accessed April 8, 2018
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