In another article in this blog, we explored the relevance of diet sodas, specifically Diet Coke and Coke Zero, on low carb and keto diets. There is another beverage that is very popular besides more traditional sodas and their diet counter-parts: energy drinks. Red Bull quips in their advertisements that their energy drink “gives you wings.” However, will drinking energy drinks help us fly to new heights with our keto diet, or bring us too close to the sun and burn away all the progress we have fought to make?
The question is, can I drink energy drinks on a keto diet? You are allowed to drink specific sugar-free energy drinks, such as Red Bull Sugarfree (very low carbs), Rockstar Sugar-free (no carbs) or Monster Zero Ultra (no sugar and no calories). However, energy drinks are not the healthiest choice, so moderation at least, or a different drink is recommended.
A Closer Look at Energy Drink Monster Zero Ultra
Let’s zoom in on these three energy drinks that comply with a keto diet. Monster Zero Ultra’s label shows us that it has no calories, two carbs and zero sugars in one can. It also has a number of Vitamin B contents, from B3 to B12. These are all good things, so then why is there so much caution regarding the health of this drink?
The challenge is the ingredients used to make up for the absence of calories, carbs and sugars. These ingredients are not free of problems themselves. Monster Zero Ultra contains artificial sweeteners, which have been mired in controversy in the scientific and health research communities since they first began to be used.
Acesulfame Potassium in particular is noted as a very potent sugar replacement, said to be roughly 200 times sweeter than sugar. These sugar replacements can cause our brains and bodies to crave sugar, while not actually supplying any, so we may end up being continuously drawn to foods that are sugary and not right for our keto diet.
There is also a long debate about artificial sweeteners being potentially linked to cancer. The research is not definitive, but it is enough to give cause for concern. This is also true of sodium benzoate and benzoic acid, which may also be found in Monster Zero Ultra. The presence of these two can lead to chemical reactions within the beverage that may produce benzene, a known carcinogen.
Lastly, the presence of caffeine and a high number of processed ingredients can be a cause for concern for some individuals. This is more of a case-by-case concern, but if you are already ingesting caffeine from other sources, or are sensitive to processed foods and beverages, Monster Zero Ultra may be a poor choice.
A Closer Look at Energy Drink Rockstar Sugar Free
Looking at the next recommendation, Rockstar Sugar Free, we find a lot of similar ingredients (and therefore, issues) to Monster Zero Ultra. Like Monster Zero Ultra, it passes the superficial tests for a keto diet of not having carbs, calories or sugar. And again, it has some vitamins included in its nutrition readout also, though with some differences to Monster Zero Ultra (it has riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid, which are not found in Monster Zero Ultra).
As with Monster Zero Ultra, however, it has artificial sweeteners, sodium benzoate / benzoic acid, acesulfame potassium and is highly processed. We have already discussed the challenges with these ingredients.
In addition to those ingredients, Rockstar Sugar Free also contains industrial caramel coloring. The process involved in making industrial caramel coloring is a particularly concerning one, resulting in a reaction that produces 4-methylimidazole, an ingredient shown by government research to cause lung, liver and thyroid cancer as well as leukemia in lab animals. This led the state of California to label anything containing industrial caramel coloring as potential cancer-causing.
Businesses that use caramel coloring dodged this regulation by lowering the quantity included to a level that no longer requires them to display this warning, despite it still being there in some quantity. This kind of risk does little to make this drink recommendable as a healthy choice in any diet.
Overall, Rockstar Sugar Free falls victim to as many criticisms as Monster Zero Ultra, and then some. For a safe beverage to go with your keto diet, look elsewhere.
A Closer Look at Energy Drink Red Bull Sugarfree
Red Bull Sugarfree contains 10 calories per can, 6g of carbs and no sugars. It also has a slightly smaller list of extra nutrients than Rockstar Sugar Free or Monster Zero Ultra, but only narrowly. These numbers are higher than zero, but still very low even within the very restrictive guidelines of a keto diet.
Like Monster Zero Ultra and Rockstar Sugar Free, Red Bull Sugarfree is highly processed and contains artificial sweeteners and caffeine. It does not contain the industrial caramel coloring found in Rockstar Sugar Free, nor the sodium benzoate / benzoic acid found in both of the others.
Unlike the others, it does contain aspartame and artificial colors. Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that is separated from others in that it has been scrutinized more intensely than any other single artificial sweetener. More research is needed, but at this time there is enough research to encourage caution.
Artificial colors, similar to aspartame and industrial caramel coloring, have been found to have the potential for significant health risks, including hyperactivity in children, allergic reactions, and even cancer.
As with the last two, there are definite problems with Red Bull Sugarfree. Looking at all three together, none of them can be considered ‘safe’ in their own right, even if they satisfy the conditions for a keto diet.
Why Not Regular Energy Drinks?
Having looked at three energy drinks that work for a keto diet, we have to wonder: why wouldn’t a regular energy drink work? Seeing how many problems are caused by the strange mixtures of ingredients needed for a ‘diet’ energy drink, it is reasonable to wonder if regular energy drinks might be better.
Looking at a regular Monster Energy Drink, we see that it contains 210 calories per can, 54g of carbs from sugar. Given that on a keto diet, daily carb intake should ideally be kept below 50g per day, one regular Monster Energy Drink already puts us over that threshold. Immediately, this shows us why the options above were the ones recommended for a keto diet.
Looking at the other counterparts from our earlier discussion, Red Bull still contains 110 calories per can and 28g of carbs, with 27g coming from sugar. Less by comparison, but still a lot given the strict limits of a keto diet. This means that even if regular energy drinks didn’t have as many problems as diet energy drinks, it would be irrelevant for a keto diet as they simply don’t pass the basic tests of what can be included.
The Priority of Health in a Keto Diet
Looking at energy drinks in a Keto diet has ended up looking quite similar to this blog’s other article on diet sodas in low-carb diets. While the recommended energy drinks superficially avoid what needs to be avoided to be relevant to a keto diet, they come with a host of other potential problems. This is worsened by the fact that some ingredients are incompletely researched, so the health problems of diet energy drinks that we already know about may only be the tip of the iceberg.
What this question boils down to is simple – what matters more: our desire for a tasty, pick-me-up beverage, or the overall health goals of a keto diet? A keto diet has many potential benefits, including weight loss, improved heart health and even reduced risks of cancers. In contrast, diet energy drinks have the potential to worsen these categories by producing unsatisfied sugar cravings, dehydration, over-caffeination and even increasing risks of cancer. The Keto Diet moves the ball forward, while drinking these energy drinks can move the ball back.
Anyone drinking energy drinks of any variety would be wise to do some occasional updated research, as more studies are completed on controversial ingredients such as artificial sweeteners and artificial colors. For now, moderate consumption of the drinks discussed above is the safest option while pursuing a keto diet.
Q: What Energy Drink is best for a Low-Carb Diet?
A: A keto diet is, from one perspective, a more strict and specific low-carb diet. As a result, much of what we discussed above applies to other low-carb diets as well. The above recommended ‘diet’ energy drinks should also be relevant to any low-carb diet, as they contain no or few carbs. At the same time, the criticisms that we have seen of these beverages still applies with a low-carb diet. Consider the goals of your low-carb diet, and review the potential drawbacks of these drinks before including them in your diet. When you do include them, consume with moderation, with a rough guideline being no more than three cans a week.
Q: What is a moderate amount of Energy Drinks to consume?
A: Ultimately, the choice is left to the person dieting. When it comes to drinking soda, the American Heart Association stated that drinking no more than three cans of soda a week is a safe guideline, due to their high sugar content and other problems. It is difficult to find a similar guideline for energy drinks, except based on their caffeine content, which is only one element of concern. That guideline suggested that as long as an energy drink is your only source of caffeine in a day, you could safely drink a couple a day and be okay. That said, there are the hosts of other concerns to consider as we saw above, so the soda guideline of three cans per week may be a safer bet if you really wish to keep drinking energy drinks.