Behind the hype: Energy drinks - NPA252
The two-page Behind the Hype information sheets contain evidence-based advice to help you provide clear consistent information to consumers.
Some supermarkets in New Zealand have banned the sale of energy drinks to under sixteen year olds. This information sheet will provide information to help you explain why energy drinks are not recommended as part of a healthy diet, particularly for children, and for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
The full resource:
Behind the hype: Energy drinks
In a nutshell
Energy drinks can be high in caffeine and sugar. They are not recommended as part of a healthy diet.
Pregnant women are advised to avoid energy drinks because of their high caffeine content – caffeine can readily cross the placenta to an unborn baby.
Caffeine can pass into the breast milk during breastfeeding, so energy drinks are not recommended for breastfeeding women.
Energy drinks and energy shots are not recommended for children and young people, who may be particularly sensitive to the negative effects of caffeine.
Why is this an issue?
Energy drinks can be high in caffeine and sugar. They are not recommended as part of a healthy diet, particularly for people who are more sensitive to the negative effects of caffeine, including pregnant or breastfeeding women, children, and young people1,2,3. Some supermarkets in New Zealand have now banned the sale of energy drinks to under sixteen year olds.
What are energy drinks?
Energy drinks are non-alcoholic, water-based drinks containing caffeine4. They also tend to be high in sugar and energy (kilojoules), although zero sugar varieties are available. Caffeine is a stimulant, and energy drinks are promoted as improving mental and physical performance. Energy drinks are not recommended as part of a healthy diet.
Energy drinks must contain between 145mg to 320mg caffeine per litre#. This equates to 36-80mg in a 250ml serve – similar to a 250ml cup of plunger coffee (66mg caffeine).
Some of these drinks can have up to 7 teaspoons (28g) of sugar in a 250ml serve5 (see Figure 2). This is more than half the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) recommended maximum daily intake of free sugars for an adult. The WHO recommends adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake6, 7. For New Zealand adults, the Ministry of Health recommends that drinks with little or no added sugar are chosen8.
Sugary drinks are linked to a range of poor health outcomes, including tooth decay, unhealthy weight gain and obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease9.
Energy drinks and pregnancy
Energy drinks are not recommended for pregnant women because of their high caffeine content3. Caffeine is a stimulant, readily crossing the placenta to an unborn baby. A moderate intake of caffeine is generally not associated with adverse developmental or reproductive effects10. However, high intakes of caffeine in pregnancy may be associated with negative outcomes11. Plain water or trim milk are the best choices for pregnant women. For more information on caffeine, see our Behind the hype: Caffeine fact sheet.
Energy drinks and breastfeeding
Energy drinks are not recommended for breastfeeding women because of their high caffeine content. During breastfeeding, caffeine moves into breast milk3. Breastfeeding women should limit their intakes of caffeine, as it can lead to irritability and disturbed sleep for the baby. Plain water or trim milk are the best choices for breastfeeding women.
Energy drinks and children
Energy drinks are high in sugar, or contain artificial sweeteners, and are not recommended for children or young people1,2. Infants and young children may be more sensitive to the negative effects of the caffeine in energy drinks, which can include; irritability, restlessness, rapid heart rate, disturbed sleep patterns, and dehydration12.
Figure 1: Choose these drinks for different population groups*
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
- Limit intake of caffeine to <300mg per day.
- Choose drinks with little or no added sugar3.
- Choose: water and low-fat unflavoured milk.
Infants aged 0-1 years
- Avoid caffeine and added sugar^
- Choose: breast milk+ and from six months of age, water.
Toddlers aged 1-2 years
- Avoid food or drinks containing caffeine and added sugar^.
- Choose: breast milk, whole milk or suitable alternatives, and water.
Children aged 2-18 years
- Limit intake of foods and drinks containing caffeine. Energy drinks and energy shots are not recommended for children and young people.
- Choose: water and low-fat unflavoured milk.
- Choose drinks with little or no added sugar.
- Choose: water, low-fat milk or moderate amounts of tea or instant coffee.
Figure 2: Caffeine and sugar content of energy drinks
|Energy drink (250ml)||Energy drink (500ml)||Energy drink (750ml)|
|Caffeine: 80mg||Caffeine: 160mg||Caffeine: 240mg|
|Sugar: 28g (7tsp)||Sugar: 56g (14tsp)||Sugar: 84g (21tsp)|
This is a rough guide. Refer to labels for more information.
- Ministry of Health. 2008. Food & Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Infants and Toddlers (aged 0-2): A background paper (4th ed) - Partially Revised December 2012. Wellington: Ministry of Health
- Ministry of Health. 2012. Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Children and Young People (Aged 2–18 years): A background paper – Revised February 2015. Wellington: Ministry of Health.
- Ministry of Health. 2006. Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women: A background paper. Wellington: Ministry of Health.
- Australia New Zealand Food Standard 2.6.4 – Formulated caffeinated beverages.
- The Concise New Zealand Food Composition Tables, 9th Edition 2012. The New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research Limited and Ministry of Health.
- WHO. 2015. Guideline: Sugars intake for adults and children. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/149782/9789241549028_ eng.pdf;jsessionid=168B4B717DA24191C3A50532D6E2D84?sequence=1 (Accessed October 2019)
- WHO. 2015. WHO calls on countries to reduce sugars intake among adults and children. https://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/ sugar-guideline/en/ (Accessed October 2019)
- Ministry of Health. 2015. Eating and Activity Guidelines for New Zealand Adults. Wellington: Ministry of Health.
- Singh GM, Micha R, Khatibzadeh S, et al. 2015. Estimated Global, Regional, and National Disease Burdens Related to Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption in 2010. Circulation; 132:639-666.
- Christian MS and Brent RL. 2001. Teratogen update: evaluation of the reproductive and developmental risks of caffeine. Teratology 64(1): 51–78. 11.
- Bracken MB, Triche EW, Belanger K, et al. 2003. Association of maternal caffeine consumption with decrements in fetal growth. American Journal of Epidemiology 157(5): 456–66.
- American Academy of Pediatrics. 2001. The transfer of drugs and other chemicals into human milk. Pediatrics 108(3): 776–89.
This resource is for digital download only.
# Energy drinks sold in New Zealand must comply with the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code - Standard 2.5.4 Formulated Caffeinated Beverage.
+ Infant formula is the only suitable alternative to breast milk for babies who are aged 0-1 year.
* Recommendations from the Ministry of Health1,2,3,8.
^ Children under two years should not be given foods or drinks with caffeine or added sugars (including coffee, tea [including herbal teas], cordials, juice, soft drinks or energy drinks)1.