How bad for you are sugar free energy drinks?

Sugar free energy drinks have become increasingly popular as people look for ways to get an energy boost without the calories and sugar of traditional energy drinks. However, there are conflicting opinions on whether sugar free energy drinks are actually healthier than their sugary counterparts. Here we’ll take a look at the pros and cons of sugar free energy drinks and help you decide if they are a smart choice or something best avoided.

What are sugar free energy drinks?

Sugar free energy drinks are very similar to regular energy drinks, except they contain artificial sweeteners rather than sugar. The most common artificial sweeteners used are aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame potassium (ace-K), and neotame. Brands such as Red Bull Sugarfree, Monster Absolutely Zero, Rockstar Sugar Free, and AMP Energy Light contain these artificial sweeteners instead of high fructose corn syrup or sucrose.

The artificial sweeteners allow these drinks to have the sweet taste people expect from energy drinks without all the calories. A 12 ounce can of regular Red Bull has 110 calories and 27 grams of sugar. Red Bull Sugarfree has only 10 calories and 0g sugar.

Do sugar free energy drinks have less calories?

Yes, sugar free energy drinks contain significantly fewer calories than their sugary versions. As mentioned above, a 12oz can of Red Bull has 110 calories, whereas Red Bull Sugarfree only has 10 calories.

Other popular sugar free energy drinks and their calorie counts:

Monster Absolutely Zero 10 calories
Rockstar Sugar Free 10 calories
AMP Energy Light 5 calories

As you can see, the sugar free versions hover around 10 calories per can, compared to 100-150 calories in a regular energy drink. Assuming calories are your main concern, sugar free energy drinks are the clear winner here.

Are the ingredients safer than sugary energy drinks?

This is where things get more complicated. Sugar free energy drinks replace sugar with artificial sweeteners, which are controversial ingredients linked to negative health effects in some studies. The safety profile of artificial sweeteners is constantly being debated.

Here’s a quick rundown of the most common artificial sweeteners used and potential concerns:

Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet): One of the most widely used artificial sweeteners. It’s 200 times sweeter than sugar with minimal calories. However, there are concerns over whether aspartame may cause neurological problems and cancer in rats. Overall, major regulatory agencies consider aspartame safe in moderation.

Sucralose (Splenda): Derived from sugar, sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar and passes through the body undigested. Considered very safe by most experts, although recent studies have raised concerns over possible DNA damage from long-term high consumption.

Acesulfame potassium (ace-K): Around 200 times sweeter than sugar with a bitter aftertaste, but zero calories. While considered safe by regulatory agencies, there is not as much long-term testing done on ace-K compared to other sweeteners.

Neotame: A derivative of aspartame that is 7,000-13,000 times sweeter than sugar. Deemed safe by FDA but has not been studied as extensively as other popular sweeteners.

Are sugar free energy drinks healthier?

When it comes to calories and sugar, sugar free energy drinks win clearly. But the health impact of substituting real sugar with artificial sweeteners is debatable.

While artificial sweeteners help reduce calories, they are still synthetic chemicals being added to your diet. There is no clear consensus in the scientific community over whether non-nutritive sweeteners are conclusively safe, especially when consumed regularly.

Some studies have linked diet soft drinks containing artificial sweeteners to weight gain, metabolic disorders, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. However other reviews have found insufficient evidence to support those claims.

Ultimately more long-term studies need to be done on artificial sweeteners, especially in real world conditions where people consume them daily rather than at specific doses used in lab studies. For now, the impact on health remains somewhat unclear.

Do sugar free energy drinks have the same caffeine content?

Yes, sugar free energy drinks generally have the same amount of caffeine as regular energy drinks. For example:

Red Bull 111mg caffeine
Red Bull Sugarfree 111mg caffeine

The caffeine comes from ingredients such as guarana, taurine, and ginseng. It provides the stimulating, energizing effect people drink energy drinks for.

So despite having less calories and sugar, sugar free energy drinks like Red Bull Sugarfree or Monster Absolutely Zero will give you the same high levels of caffeine as their sugary counterparts.

The FDA recommends limiting caffeine intake to 400mg per day. A 16oz can of a typical energy drink already exceeds half of that amount.

Do sugar free energy drinks cause crashes?

Yes, sugar free energy drinks can still lead to “crashes” once their stimulant effect wears off due to the caffeine content. The lack of calories and nutrients causes a quick spike and drop off in energy levels.

This happens with regular energy drinks too. The caffeine in energy drinks provides a short-term energizing jolt, but your energy levels drop back down once the caffeine wears off.

Sugar free energy drinks may lead to crashes faster than sugary versions because there are no calories or carbohydrates to help prolong the energy boost. The effect comes almost completely from caffeine rather than a combination of caffeine and sugar.

Are sugar free energy drinks bad for your teeth?

Sugar free energy drinks are less harmful for dental health than regular energy drinks since they don’t contain sugar. Sugar causes cavities and tooth decay, so avoiding it is better for your teeth.

However, sugar free energy drinks are still quite acidic due to the carbonation and citric acid used for flavoring. Acidic drinks can erode tooth enamel over time and lead to dental erosion.

While sugar free energy drinks are an improvement over sugary versions, it’s still best to minimize consumption for optimal dental health. Drink them in moderation and avoid sipping or holding them in your mouth for extended periods of time.

Do sugar free energy drinks cause anxiety or jitters?

Yes, the large amounts of caffeine in sugar free energy drinks can definitely cause feelings of anxiety, jitteriness, and shakiness.

Caffeine is a stimulant that can activate “fight or flight” stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Too much caffeine triggers the body’s adrenal glands, releasing these hormones and causing anxious symptoms.

Sugar free energy drinks provide an even quicker jolt of caffeine since your body doesn’t have to process sugar. This can make the anxiety symptoms even more pronounced.

People prone to anxiety or who are sensitive to caffeine tend to be most affected. But even people who normally tolerate caffeine well may feel anxious or jittery after sugar free energy drinks due to the high caffeine content.

Do sugar free energy drinks have nutrition?

No, sugar free energy drinks have no nutritional value. They mainly contain artificial sweeteners, caffeine, and carbonated water with some vitamins and amino acids added.

Unlike juice, milk, or other beverages, sugar free energy drinks provide no protein, fiber, minerals, antioxidants, or other nutrients.

While they have minimal calories, sugar free energy drinks are considered “empty calories” since you get no nutritional benefit from consuming them.

Do sugar free energy drinks hydrate you?

No, sugar free energy drinks do not properly hydrate the body like water or drinks like milk and juice. They often contain diuretic ingredients like caffeine which increase urination.

The carbonated water provides some hydration, but the diuretic effects of caffeine and other energy drink ingredients lead to a net loss of fluids.

Drinking sugar free energy drinks before exercise is unlikely to help hydration levels. Water or electrolyte sports drinks are better choices for hydration.

Can sugar free energy drinks affect blood pressure?

Yes, there is evidence linking sugar free energy drinks to elevated blood pressure:

– A 2015 study found blood pressure and heart rate increased by 6-7% in adults drinking just one sugar free energy drink daily for 7 days.

– A review in Frontiers of Public Health found several studies that observed increased systolic and diastolic blood pressure after intake of sugar free energy drinks.

– Researchers propose two mechanisms – the effect of caffeine as a stimulant, and insulin resistance caused by artificial sweeteners – may be reasons for the blood pressure increasing effect.

While more studies are needed, there seems to be modest evidence that sugar free energy drinks may raise blood pressure, at least acutely after drinking them. Those with hypertension may need to be particularly cautious with intake.

Do sugar free energy drinks cause bloating?

Sugar free energy drinks can cause bloating in some people due to two ingredients:

Carbonated water – The bubbles release CO2 gas which may increase abdominal distension, gas, and bloating. Some people are more sensitive to carbonation than others.

Artificial sweeteners – Some sweeteners like aspartame, ace-K and sucralose can cause digestive upset in sensitive individuals. There is less gut bacteria able to break down artificial vs real sugars.

However, bloating symptoms vary greatly by individual. Some people report no digestive issues from sugar free energy drinks. But people prone to gas and bloating may want to moderate intake in case it exacerbates symptoms.

Do sugar free energy drinks increase appetite?

Artificial sweeteners found in sugar free energy drinks may actually increase hunger and appetite rather than curbing it.

Some research suggests that tasting sweetness without any calories triggers increased food intake later on to compensate. Our taste buds signal to the body that calories are coming, but when they don’t arrive, hunger and cravings ramp up.

This may cause sugar free energy drinks to have the opposite effect than intended for weight management, although more studies are still needed in this area.


Sugar free energy drinks reduce calories and sugar compared to regular versions, but the health impact of artificial sweeteners is unclear. While they may assist with weight management, potential links to toxicity, metabolic disorders, dental issues, anxiety, and more keep them controversial.

For those concerned purely about calories, sugar free energy drinks win. But switching to unsweetened beverages like water or seltzer may be an even healthier choice long-term.

Moderation is important with either regular or sugar free energy drinks due to the high caffeine content. Limit yourself to occasional use rather than daily long-term consumption for optimal wellbeing.

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