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Forget about chugging boring old H2O. Step into any supermarket beverage aisle and you’ll encounter an array of functional beverages vying for your attention and promising an array of health benefits. From prebiotic-infused sodas to collagen-spiked waters, the beverage industry is experiencing a revolution fueled by consumers’ growing desire for wellness in every sip. Functional beverages are here to shake up the beverage aisle like a toddler with a can of soda.

Functional beverages encompass a wide range of liquid food products that emphasize particular ingredients or alleged health benefits. These beverages include a variety of options such as dairy beverages, sports and performance drinks, energy drinks, fortified fruit drinks, plant-based milks and enhanced water. Each type of functional beverage is formulated with specific ingredients aimed at providing consumers with targeted health benefits or addressing specific nutritional needs. They often contain added ingredients like ginseng for energy or naturally-occurring compounds like caffeine.

And what about your average sweetened beverage? Concerns persist regarding the health impacts of these beverages, particularly artificial sweeteners like aspartame, prompting calls for further research and regulatory oversight.

Amidst the diverse landscape of functional beverages, including many types such as adaptogen-infused drinks, probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics, collagen-containing drinks, CoQ10-enriched beverages and energy drinks, consumer education and informed decision-making are crucial to navigating the market and prioritizing holistic wellness.

The pandemic has further accelerated this growth as consumers prioritize health. In the United States, sales of functional beverages surged by 54% to reach $9.2 billion between March 2020 and March 2024, as reported by NielsenIQ. This growth outpaced the overall non-alcoholic beverage market, which experienced a 43% increase during the same period. As a result, functional beverages now constitute approximately 10% of the total non-alcoholic beverage market in the U.S.

The demand for functional ingredients in beverages is on the rise as consumers prioritize products that support both mental and physical energy while fulfilling their hydration needs, according to Nutra Ingredients. A recent consumer trends report by Prinova highlights this trend, revealing that 89% of consumers prefer functional food and drink over supplements to enhance their health. This shift in consumer behavior is reflected in the non-alcoholic drinks market, which has already reached a global revenue of nearly $1.5 trillion in 2024 and is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 4.6% until 2027, according to Statista. As a result, consumers are actively seeking a broader array of options beyond traditional beverages, driving innovation and diversification in the market.

With the skyrocketing popularity of these concoctions, understanding their composition, purported health benefits and potential risks is crucial for providing evidence-based guidance to consumers, clients and patients. As these beverages often target specific health concerns or nutritional needs, health and wellness professionals can play an important role in helping clients navigate through the sea of options to make informed choices aligned with their dietary goals and overall wellness objectives.

Sweetened beverages

Sweetened drinks, whether sugar- or artificially sweetened, have been linked to an increased risk of atrial fibrillation (AFib), according to a March 2024 study published in Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology. Analyzing data from the UK Biobank, researchers found a 20% higher risk of AFib among clients consuming more than 2 liters per week of artificially sweetened drinks and a 10% higher risk among those consuming similar amounts of sugar-sweetened beverages, compared to non-consumers. Conversely, consuming one liter or less per week of pure, unsweetened juice was associated with an 8% lower risk of AFib. Although the study couldn’t establish causation, it suggests potential health risks associated with sweetened drinks, prompting recommendations to reduce or avoid them whenever possible. These findings add to existing concerns about the health impacts of sweetened beverages, highlighting the importance of further research and public health strategies to promote heart health.

In an umbrella review from the National Library of Medicine, the association between the consumption of artificially sweetened beverages and various health outcomes was evaluated by analyzing 11 meta-analyses from seven systematic reviews. The findings suggest that a higher intake of artificially sweetened beverages is associated with an increased risk of several health conditions, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, all-cause mortality, hypertension and cardiovascular disease incidence. However, the evidence supporting these associations varied in strength, with highly suggestive evidence found for obesity, type 2 diabetes, all-cause mortality, hypertension and cardiovascular disease incidence. Other outcomes, such as colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, cancer mortality, chronic kidney disease, coronary artery disease and stroke, showed weaker evidence of association with artificially sweetened beverage consumption. The methodological quality of the systematic reviews was also assessed, revealing some deficiencies, including unclear sources of funding and lack of predefined study protocols. Overall, while the findings suggest a potential link between artificially sweetened beverage consumption and adverse health outcomes, further research, particularly well-designed cohort studies and clinical trials, is needed to better understand the impact of artificially sweetened beverages on health.

Aspartame, an artificial sweetener widely used since the 1980s, has been subject to concerns regarding its potential health impacts, including cancer risk. Studies in lab rats suggested a possible link between aspartame and certain cancers, but these findings had limitations. Epidemiologic studies in humans have yielded inconsistent results, according to the American Cancer Society. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies aspartame as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” based on limited evidence of potential liver cancer risk. However, other respected organizations like the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives find the evidence inconclusive. Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Authority have deemed aspartame safe for consumption at current levels. The FDA sets an acceptable daily intake, which is the maximum safe amount for daily consumption, at 50 milligrams (about twice the weight of a grain of rice) per kilogram of body weight. As always, moderation is key. Despite ongoing research and differing conclusions, the American Cancer Society advocates for further investigation into artificial sweeteners’ potential health impacts while emphasizing the importance of regulatory oversight and adherence to safety standards.

Adaptogens

Adaptogen drinks are beverages infused with plant extracts known for their relaxing or euphoric effects. They come in various forms like sparkling sodas, teas, kombucha blends and non-alcoholic alternatives such as functional beer and wine. These drinks typically combine adaptogenic herbs with fruits, vegetable extracts, superfoods and vitamins to enhance their wellness benefits.

Adaptogenic herbs, plants, roots and medicinal mushrooms offer a range of benefits when infused into drinks. These include ashwagandha, holy basil (Tulsi), rhodiola, ginseng, CBD, 5-HTP, maca, licorice root and medicinal mushrooms. Common brands include Kowa, BREZ, Juni, Heywell and Good Idea.

While adaptogens offer potential health benefits, it’s crucial to acknowledge potential risks. Some adaptogens may interact negatively with prescription medications, according to University Hospitals, in Cleveland, Ohio. Consulting a doctor before trying any adaptogenic beverage or supplement is important, especially for those on medication. Pregnant women should also consult their doctor before using adaptogens due to potential risks. Adaptogens are not regulated by the FDA, so their claimed health benefits aren’t guaranteed. Some clients may experience negative side effects like headaches. Adaptogen drinks can be expensive and high in calories. For those concerned about weight gain, moderation is advised. While adaptogens hold promise, caution and moderation are essential and consulting with healthcare professionals is advisable, especially for clients with underlying health conditions or those taking medications.

Probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics

Probiotics are beneficial live bacteria found in cultured foods and drinks, according to MedicineNet. They aid digestion, regulate the immune system and protect the gut from harmful bacteria. Prebiotics are dietary fibers that probiotics feed on. They serve as fuel for the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Postbiotics are the beneficial byproducts produced by probiotics during their life processes. They contribute to gut health and overall well-being. Common brands include Life Cider, Mighty Pop, wildwonder, Humm, Karma, GoodBelly, Olipop and Poppi.

Together, probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics support a healthy gut microbiome, which is essential for digestion, immune function and overall health. Ongoing research investigates the link between gut microflora and disease, though conclusive proof of the health benefits of current probiotics and prebiotics is lacking, according to Mayo Clinic. Nonetheless, side effects are rare and most healthy adults can safely incorporate prebiotic- and probiotic-rich food and drink into their diets. Continued research may yield more advanced probiotics with enhanced health benefits in the future.

Kelsey Kunik, RDN, on her Graciously Nourished blog extensively compares Olipop and Poppi, two popular prebiotic soda brands and helps consumers make informed choices based on ingredients, nutrition and value. Both brands tout reduced sugar and calorie content compared to traditional sodas, along with added prebiotic fibers that support gut health.

Olipop, introduced in 2018, boasts a unique blend of prebiotic fibers derived from cassava root, chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, along with extracts of nopal cactus, marshmallow root, calendula flower and kudzu root. Poppi, launched in 2020 after an appearance on Shark Tank, emphasizes simplicity in its ingredient list, featuring organic cane sugar, apple cider vinegar and agave inulin. While both brands offer a variety of flavors and are widely available, Olipop stands out with its higher fiber content, offering 9 grams per 12-ounce can compared to Poppi’s 2 grams, Kunik wrote. However, clients sensitive to increased fiber intake may prefer Poppi. Overall, both brands provide healthier alternatives to traditional sodas, catering to consumers seeking gut-friendly options in their beverage choices.

Vitamin-enriched

Vitamin-enhanced water, often marketed as a healthier alternative to regular water, contains water-soluble vitamins and minerals like vitamins A, C and various B-group vitamins, along with electrolytes and sweeteners, either natural or artificial, according to Susan Watson, RD, as written on her A Little Nutrition blog. Popular brands include VitaminWater, Hint, Bai, Flow, BODYARMOR and Lemon Perfect.

The idea behind vitamin water is to provide additional health benefits beyond those of plain water. While vitamin-enriched water may offer some benefits as an occasional alternative to sugary drinks like juice or soda, it should not be relied upon to meet nutritional requirements. Adopting a food-first approach and consuming a balanced diet rich in whole foods is the most effective way to obtain essential nutrients for optimal health and well-being.

Beverages with CoQ10

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a naturally occurring antioxidant that the body produces and utilizes for various functions, including growth and maintenance of cells. The body’s CoQ10 levels decline as time goes on, and certain conditions, such as heart disease and the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs like statins can further reduce CoQ10 levels, according to Mayo Clinic.

While CoQ10 is found in dietary sources like meat, fish and nuts, the amounts obtained from these foods are often insufficient to significantly increase CoQ10 levels in the body. Therefore, CoQ10 supplements are available in various forms such as capsules, chewable tablets and liquid syrups. Popular beverages with CoQ10 include Rockstar, Reign Total Body Fuel, Clean Cause, FOCUSAID, Aspire and Bing.

Research suggests that CoQ10 may have benefits for certain health conditions. CoQ10 may improve symptoms of congestive heart failure and help reduce blood pressure. It might also aid in recovery after bypass and heart valve surgeries. Some studies indicate that CoQ10 may help reduce LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol levels in people with diabetes, thereby lowering their risk of heart disease. CoQ10 may help alleviate muscle weakness and pain associated with taking statins. CoQ10 might decrease the frequency of migraines. CoQ10’s role in energy production has led to speculation that it might improve physical performance, although research results are mixed in this area.

CoQ10 supplements are generally considered safe with few side effects, such as digestive problems (e.g., abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea) and mild headaches or dizziness. However, it’s important to take CoQ10 under the supervision of a doctor, especially if the consumer is pregnant, breastfeeding or taking anticoagulant medications.

CoQ10 supplements may interact with certain medications, such as anticoagulants, potentially reducing their effectiveness and increasing the risk of blood clots. Overall, CoQ10 supplements may offer benefits for specific health conditions, but it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen.

Collagen-containing drinks

Collagen is a crucial protein for maintaining the health of various tissues in the body, including skin, hair, nails, tendons and bones. While collagen drinks and supplements have gained popularity for their perceived benefits, scientific evidence supporting their efficacy remains limited, according to an article from Harvard Medical School. Popular collagen-containing drinks include Pop & Bottle, CLEAN Cause, Tru Beauty, Circle Sparkling Collagen Water and SkinTe Collagen Sparkling Water.

Research suggests that collagen supplementation may improve skin health by enhancing firmness, suppleness and moisture content, as well as reducing the appearance of wrinkles. However, most studies have used supplements containing additional ingredients, making it challenging to isolate the specific effects of collagen alone. Furthermore, there is little evidence supporting the use of collagen for improving hair and nail health, with only a few studies showing potential benefits for nail brittleness. Overall, more research is needed to fully understand the efficacy and safety of collagen supplements and drinks for enhancing skin, hair and nail health. In the meantime, maintaining a balanced diet rich in protein, following proper skincare practices and consulting with a healthcare professional remain essential for overall tissue health.

Energy drinks

Energy drinks, popular among students seeking an extra boost, contain high levels of caffeine, added sugars and legal stimulants like guarana and taurine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Popular energy drinks include Bang, Celsius, Ghost and Monster.

While they may increase alertness and energy, they can also raise blood pressure, heart rate and breathing, posing risks such as dehydration, heart complications, anxiety and insomnia. In fact, thousands of adolescents visit the emergency room annually due to energy drink-related issues. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly advises against their consumption by children and adolescents, emphasizing the importance of educating students, athletes and parents about the dangers of these beverages. Instead, promoting healthy alternatives like water, milk and juice is essential for overall wellness in school environments.

The Celsius drink has gained significant attention on social media, promoting itself as a healthy energy beverage with various benefits, including boosting metabolism and burning body fat. However, there’s some concerns about the ingredients and claims made by Celsius. While the drink contains zero calories and claims to have no sugar or artificial additives, it likely includes artificial sweeteners to provide sweetness, according to information provided by a dietitian in Yoga Journal. The exact amount of caffeine in Celsius isn’t disclosed, but estimates suggest around 200 milligrams per drink, potentially suitable for most people but possibly problematic for those with high blood pressure or anxiety. The inclusion of chromium, claimed to control hunger, is also questioned due to the excessive amount provided in a single drink. While Celsius might be suitable for high-performing athletes, moderation is key for everyday consumers, as overconsumption could lead to digestive issues. Whole foods can be alternatives for energy and fuel, such as oatmeal, bananas and fruits, emphasizing their natural benefits for physical activity and muscle recovery.

In conclusion, the landscape of beverages and functional beverages continues to expand rapidly, offering consumers a diverse array of options tailored to their health and wellness needs. From adaptogens to collagen-containing drinks, these beverages present both opportunities and challenges for consumers and health and wellness professionals alike. As the market evolves and research advances, it becomes increasingly important for dietitians to stay informed about the latest trends and findings to provide evidence-based guidance and support for consumers navigating their beverage choices in pursuit of optimal health and well-being.

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