Coffee has been demonized on and off by the medical community in the many years it has been around. While it’s long been associated with specific conditions and diseases, more recently it’s been found to have some health benefits.
Energy drinks, while much newer, have been resoundingly written off as being bad for your health. Because of their relative newness, it’s hard to tell if that’s accurate or based on limited studies.
Both coffee and energy drinks have different effects on your health, some good and some bad. When looking at the effects of either, it’s important to look at how both affect the heart, as this can be indicative of other health problems they cause.
Diet and Heart Health
Heart health is generally linked to having a healthy diet – though what a healthy diet entails is up for debate. MedlinePlus recommends eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in fats, sugars, and foods that have a lot of calories with little nutritional value.
Caffeine, in general, has the effect of increasing your heart rate and raising your blood pressure. Both can put serious strain on your body in general and, more specifically your heart.
Caffeine also creates a stress-like response in your body, stimulating your adrenal gland and putting a strain on your heart. Recently, studies have concluded that high levels of stress are bad for your heart and for you in general.
Eating a lot of fat and sugar is generally considered to be bad for your health, particularly your heart. Excess sugar, in particular, can lead to type two diabetes, which carries an increased risk of heart disease and heart attacks.
While it’s hard to list ingredients found in energy drinks in general, since it covers a broad category of drinks, you can look at what’s commonly found in energy drinks.
Further, this is looking just at black coffee. Adding ingredients like sugar, milk, and flavorings will change the composition of your coffee and might make it less beneficial.
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Coffee is just coffee. You can add sugar or milk to it if you’d like, but it’s a plant.
If you buy a flavored coffee, it will have some of that flavoring in it as well. Even decaffeinated coffee beans aren’t altered significantly – many roasters use a process involving water to extract the caffeine.
Unless you’re looking at something like Death Wish Coffee, the caffeine is naturally occurring, as is everything about the drink.
If you’re drinking black or nearly-black coffee, you’re more likely to see benefits from your drink than if you load it down with milk and sugar – both of which can lead to health problems.
While many artificial sweeteners are low or no calorie, they can still cause considerable health problems as well, particularly if consumed in excess. You’re likely better off with real sugar in smaller amounts than using an artificial sweetener.
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While different energy drinks will have varying ingredients based on flavor and manufacturer, there are some similarities between them.
Most energy drinks have at least the following ingredients:
The caffeine does not come naturally in the drink from anything found in energy drinks themselves. It’s added in separately specifically for the energy boost.
The sugar added into energy drinks can run from artificial sweeteners to high fructose corn syrup, though you can find some energy drinks with real sugar in them.
Taurine is an amino acid that helps with your brain, retina, heart, and blood cells. Typically, you get it through eating meat.
It’s interesting to note that taurine is used to help combat certain diseases, including congestive heart failure and high blood pressure.
When taking it for medicine, you typically take 2-3 grams several times a day. Red Bull’s website states that a can of their drink only has 1 gram of it.
Coffee vs. Energy Drinks
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It’s also important to look at the amounts of various chemicals found in coffee vs. energy drinks.
A single cup of coffee, on average, contains more caffeine than a can of an energy drink. However, it’s all naturally occurring caffeine and doesn’t contain the laundry list of ingredients found on a can of energy drinks.
An overview of the more popular energy drinks shows that many have somewhere between 27 and 37 grams of sugar in them.
There are 4 grams of sugar in a teaspoon – 9 in a tablespoon. So, unless you’re putting seven or more teaspoons of sugar in your coffee, chances are you’re not getting anywhere near as much sugar in your coffee.
Even if you avoid sugar and go for artificially sweetened energy drinks or adding artificial sweeteners to your coffee, you may run into different health problems – including type 2 diabetes, which puts you at increased risk for heart disease and heart attacks.
A recent overview of the body of scientific literature on the health benefits of coffee indicates that coffee might not be so bad for you after all.
This study, published in The BMJ, concluded that small amounts of coffee – no more than four cups a day – had some evidence of health benefits. However, pregnant people should still avoid coffee as its consumption is associated with low birth rate and premature births.
Unfiltered coffee, such as boiled coffee or espresso, can lead to elevated cholesterol levels, which is bad for your heart and can lead to heart disease and heart attacks.
Also, if you metabolize caffeine slowly, you may be putting yourself at a greater risk of heart disease if you drink more than a cup a day.
Energy drinks are still relatively new to the market, so extensive studies have not been done on them the same way that they’ve been done on coffee.
However, preliminary studies have raised concerns about the health risks associated with energy drinks, particularly when consumed by teens and young adults.
Caffeine, in general, is only dangerous when consumed in excessive amounts. It can even be beneficial in smaller amounts when considering the effects on exercise and general physical performance. It does, however, create a stress-like response in your body, which can have adverse effects on your health.
Looking at the ingredients, eating too much sugar can lead to heart disease. While you can get a lot of sugar from coffee if you add it into your drink, generally you’ll have a lot less in your coffee than if you drink an energy drink.
General Health Concerns
The World Health Organization has released a study that indicates that energy drinks may be worse for our health than originally thought.
While many of the energy drink-related emergency room visits are a direct result of mixing them with alcohol, there have been reported cases of caffeine overdose and other health problems. Despite coffee having more caffeine, energy drinks are easier to overdose on.
Our Final Thoughts
If you’re looking just at the caffeine levels found in coffee vs. energy drinks, it can be easy to write off coffee as being unhealthier – doubly so if you think that adding some vitamins and amino acids will make a difference when it comes to drinking what basically amounts to sugar water.
However, overall, coffee is far better for your heart than energy drinks, when drunk sparingly.
Neither is fantastic for your heart or general health. If drunk excessively, coffee can be as bad – or worse – than energy drinks.
Coffee can be a good substitute for energy drinks if you’re looking to cut back on the habit but still want the pick-me-up that caffeine provides you with. Coffee even has more caffeine than energy drinks, so you may be pleased by the extra pep in your step.
If you have specific heart conditions or are recovering from a recent heart attack or acute heart problem, your doctor may recommend that you avoid coffee, at least for a while.
It’s always best to listen to your doctor’s recommendations for your health, particularly when it comes to matters of the heart.
Regardless of your drink consumption, if you want to improve your heart health, you should look to change your diet as a whole. It’s unlikely that one thing, especially consumed in moderation, is going to destroy your health.
There are few health problems that are solved by changing one aspect of your diet, and there are even fewer dietary questions that are as clear-cut as coffee vs. energy drinks; Coffee is better for you, hands down.