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Don't buy the hype pitched by health imposters

June 08, 2011|By Loa Blasucci

We’re a nation of consumers. I am fascinated by the number of products that appeal to our senses because of their names. Names like “energy bar” or “sports drink.” The names alone suggest we may need them if we want to participate in sports or have energy.

But a closer look leaves me in awe of the power of marketing. With around 250 calories, 9 grams of fat and nearly 20 grams of sugar, some energy bars are surprisingly similar to a Snickers bar. But something about eating a candy bar in the afternoon is going to give me a whole lot more guilt than eating something called an energy bar.

We buy sports drinks thinking we need electrolytes, and for a high performance athlete, who has practiced vigorously for an hour or more, replacing fluids with electrolytes is a good idea. Electrolytes assist with rapid rehydration. It’s up to us to decide how important rapid hydration and the idea of a name is.

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But maybe sports drinks aren’t all that sportsmanlike. Along with the electrolytes, you get food dyes, like brilliant blue #2 or yellow #5 (tartrazine), and a rich dose of added sugar. Food dyes have been implicated in allergic reactions and known to trigger episodes of asthma. Additionally, there has been some research by the FDA that links food dyes to thyroid tumors and allergic responses. For many parents, the hyperactivity and behavioral changes in their children are so noticeable, they steer clear of sports drinks for their kids.

Researchers from the University of Connecticut, University of Arkansas and the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine found that nonfat chocolate milk may help to repair muscles better than sports drinks. They took muscle biopsies of runners after they had exercised and found their muscles repaired more efficiently after drinking 16 ounces of nonfat chocolate milk than when they drank sports drinks. I’m not recommending post-workout chocolate milk, just pointing out that, in many ways, the jury is still out as to the necessity of sports drinks and energy bars.

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