Dec. 4, 2012 at 9:55 AM ET
"It's worth keeping in mind that energy drinks also contain a variety of other substances, including sugar or sweeteners, amino acids, vitamins, and an assortment of poorly researched herbal extracts," says Kathleen Miller, PhD, principal investigator at the University at Buffalo's Research Institute on Addiction. "There's relatively little research about how these herbal extracts interact with each other or with caffeine. In some cases, all we really know about their effects is what the company chooses to tell us, or what we can dig up on the Internet."
The good news is you don't have to overload on caffeine to enjoy a healthy energy spike. We looked to ancient traditions and new products on the market to find the best energizing drinks and foods that won't tank your health.
Drink it: This ancient fermented tea beverage isn't loaded with caffeine--that's wiped out as the tea ferments. Instead, the art of making kombucha--a mildly tart, effervescent natural energy drink--creates B vitamins that are essential to healthy energy levels. Fermentation also creates healthy acids that help cleanse the liver and flush out toxins that can make us feel lethargic.
Get it: Bottled kombucha is available in many natural food stores nationwide. You can order also a kit from Kombucha Brooklyn to brew your own batch.
Drink it: Know those handy energy shots? You can get a healthier energy boost without overloading your body with crash-and-burn caffeine, thanks to the brand new Pure Prana shots. The superstar of this natural blend is organic holy basil, one of the most sacred herbs from India's ayurvedic tradition. The herbal blend helps oxygenate your body, enabling cells to more efficiently carry oxygen throughout the body.
"It's a way to bring balance and to optimize full health potential without a drug that's going to spike your energy levels and crash," explains Pure Prana founder Daniel Sullivan. "Instead of creating an environment where you have to detoxify from these energy-supportive drinks, these actually help cleanse the liver, cleanse the kidneys, and move the blood."
Get it: Find it online at tumericalive.com.
Drink it: You might not think of beets as energy boosters, but the root vegetable possesses a well-known ability to increase your body's ability to use oxygen more efficiently. While it's not loaded with caffeine, taurine, ginseng, or the other exotic ingredients found in many conventional energy drinks, this simple fermented brew could help energize any workout without harmful side effects.
A staple in Eastern Europe centuries ago, beet kvass is a fermented vegetable drink that's loaded with naturally occurring nutrients--no need to add shady man-made energizing ingredients! Zu-kay Live Foods is putting beet kvass back on the map.
Get it: Available in Wegmans, many Whole Foods stores, and other natural food stores nationwide.
Eat it: Mixed greens are among the most nutrient dense foods you can eat. A cup of arugula, for examples, is just 25 calories and provides your daily recommended folate, vitamin K, vitamin C, calcium, fiber, and beta-carotene. Other common mesclun mixed greens contain power-boosting folate and sulforaphanes that help detox your liver, helping you feel less sluggish.
The Happiness Diet authors recommend eating a variety of greens daily for energy, including dark greens rich in magnesium to detoxifying beet greens.
Get it: A recent study linked a fungicide commonly used on non-organic greens to obesity, so choose organic from your favorite store or farmer's market.
Eat it: Dark chocolate is rich in flavonols that increase blood flow to the brain, boosting your mental energy. That's not the treat's only promise. Dark chocolate's phytonutrients actually increase energy expenditure. Studies have found eating a bit of dark chocolate each day can even protect you against weight gain.
Get it: We love fair trade, organic dark chocolate from Theo and Equal Exchange.
Luna's Chocolate Peppermint Stick
Eat it: Energy bars are an easy solution to stash in your bag and grab when you need an energy fix. And one's like Luna's Chocolate Peppermint Stick actually taste good, too! Look for brands that boast things like whole grains, nuts, and fruit. Be wary of unhealthy imposters, though. Some contain so much sugar that they're little more than glorified candy bars.
Get it: Find it at Wal-Mart, Target, and many other retailers.
Equal Exchange Apricot Geobars
Eat it: These chewy fruit-filled bars are great for an on-the-go breakfast, dessert in your packed lunch, or a quick snack. Plus, the fiber from the wheat and rice makes it a perfect midmorning hunger-killer. The best part? It's made from fair trade ingredients!
Get it: Order the bars online at equalexchange.coop.
Eat it: Potatoes have a bad reputation thanks to carbs, but in moderation they can be quite healthy. Especially blue potatoes, heirloom varieties loaded with phytonutrients and iodine, a critical nutrient needed to maintain healthy thyroid functioning. Low iodide levels are linked to sluggish energy levels.
Get it: Look for these at your local farmer's market and be sure to buy organic. Don't skip eating the skins, either. That's where many of the nutrients are stored.
Honey Stinger Waffles
Eat it: Honey is Mother's Nature's version of an energy shot. Ancient Greek athletes turned to it for energy during competitions thanks to honey's favorable natural sugar profile. If slurping honey's too messy for you, opt for these organic honey stinger waffles--they are 100 percent delicious and modeled after waffles popular among cyclists in Europe.
Get it: Find the bars at Amazon.com, GNC, and REI.
Steaz Organic Energy
Drink it: Still fixed on getting your energy from a can? Steaz offers an organic energy drink that contains fruit extracts and yerba mate, an energy-boosting compound from the leaves of a tropical tree. Yerba mate contains caffeine and other natural stimulants that South Americans have used to combat fatigue. Just don't overindulge-the sugar content is a bit on the high side and canned beverages in general tend to contain the chemical BPA.
Get it: Buy Steaz online or Whole Foods, Wegmans, and Sunflower Markets.
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