Food Dish — Where food, science and regulation meet
Energy drinks in the news
Energy drinks have been getting a lot of press lately, and it hasn’t all been good. Over the last year or so, we’ve seen reports of a possible link between the beverages and deaths or illness, concerns about inadequate regulation of the drinks in connection with the amount of caffeine and other ingredients contained in them, and reports that the claimed benefits of the beverages may not hold true.
These popular beverages are marketed as providing boosts of energy and improved mental and physical performance. They entered the North American scene in the 1980s and 1990s but have been widely available in other parts of the world for much longer.
They first entered Canada as “natural health products,” but in late 2011 were reclassified as foods. As a result of the reclassification, energy drinks are now subject to the same labelling requirements as foods (including the nutrition facts table and required allergen declarations), and there are limits on the amount of caffeine and other ingredients in the drinks.
Effective now, the caffeine in energy drinks sold in Canada has been capped – the new limit is 180 mg of caffeine per can or single-serving bottle – about the same as a filter drip eight-ounce (237-mL) cup of coffee. All of the drinks, including larger, resealable bottles, are also being capped at 400 mg of caffeine per litre.
According to Health Canada spokesman Sean Upton, “when setting the 180-mg limit, we looked for a level that would not represent a risk, based on expected consumption patterns for these drinks.” For most adults, 400 mg of caffeine per day is considered safe.
In addition, manufacturers are required to report consumer complaints to Health Canada and submit more detailed information on consumption and sales of energy drinks, which will assist in the monitoring of the drinks to determine if additional safety requirements are needed. According to William Yan, a director in Health Canada’s bureau of nutritional sciences, “we consider there to be (information) gaps right now, as to how these products are actually being used.” Health Canada wants to close those information gaps before giving us its final word on the subject.
The Canadian government’s limits on the amount of caffeine in energy drinks, and its plan for increased monitoring of the drinks’ safety, comes at a time when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is facing pressures to improve oversight of the beverages.
Last year, the possible link between consumption of energy drinks and deaths, irregular heartbeats and amnesia became news across Canada and the U.S. Of particular concern is consumption of these drinks by children and teens. In addition to high amounts of caffeine, the drinks contain other compounds, and the possible effects of these — especially in combination — on children’s health has not been well studied.
A number of U.S. senators have been pushing the FDA to change the regulation of energy drinks, and have been using the new Canadian guidelines as evidence that the U.S. is being irresponsible with respect to the oversight of these beverages.
According to the FDA, manufacturers of “energy” products have labelled some as dietary supplements and others as conventional foods. FDA regulates both dietary supplements and conventional foods under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), but the requirements for them are different.