Even if you haven’t heard the term “functional beverage,” odds are that you’ve had one at some point in your life. Suddenly, it seems as if every liquid you could possibly consume has been enhanced in some way. Even water, arguably the most functional of all beverages, has been given upgrades by various companies hoping to improve on the original.
But what exactly are functional beverages, and are they everything they’re cracked up to be? Considering how ubiquitous they’ve become, these drinks merit a closer look.
What’s the Function of A Functional Beverage?
Although the intended purpose varies, a functional beverage can generally be defined as a drink that’s formulated to provide some sort of health benefit. Vitamins, probiotics, superfood extracts, and herbs are among the most common active ingredients of functional beverages. Purported benefits include increased energy, enhanced sports performance, better sleep, improved digestion, or clear skin.
But why has there been a sudden swell of interest? Having largely moved as a culture away from unhealthy choices like soda, we’re interested in drinks that do more than just quench our thirst. Why drink plain old water when you can drink water with “super” powers? It’s appealing to think that we can boost our wellbeing by doing something as easy as enjoying a beverage.
Four Functional Beverage Types
While there’s probably a functional beverage for every conceivable purpose, they can be broadly sorted into four categories.
1. Sports Drinks
This type of functional beverage has been around for a long time, and it’s one of the most common ones. Sports drinks are formulated to hydrate and energize athletes, as well as replenish electrolytes lost through sweating. The main ingredient of sports drinks is typically water, followed closely by carbohydrates (usually sugar) and a little bit of salt for electrolyte replacement.
How much of a difference do sports drinks make? The short answer is, not much. There’s not a lot of solid scientific evidence supporting the claims made by sports drink manufacturers that their products prevent dehydration and improve performance. And nutritionally speaking, most sports drinks are almost as bad as soda in terms of their sugar and calorie content. A 32-ounce sports drink contains usually contains between 56 and 76 grams of sugar. That’s 14 to 19 teaspoons of sugar in a single bottle!
2. Energy Drinks
Whether quaffed from a can or downed as a shot, energy drinks are the functional beverage of choice for people of all ages, but they’re especially popular with teens and young adults. The active ingredient in energy drinks is usually caffeine, and some also include stimulants like guarana and ginseng along with energizing B vitamins. As their name implies, energy drinks are designed to give you energy, and they tend to serve that purpose pretty well. But the functionality of energy drinks may come at a price.
Over the last decade, the number of emergency room visits linked to energy drink consumption has more than doubled. One of the populations most impacted by the dangers of energy drinks are college students, since they like to mix theirs with alcohol — with troubling results. Students who combine energy drinks and alcohol are much more likely to exhibit other dangerous behaviors as well.
Even when they’re not mixed with alcohol, energy drinks may pose health risks. Their high caffeine content can lead to anxiety, insomnia, heart problems, and more. Many of them also contain a lot of processed sugar and synthetic chemicals.
3. Functional Water
Since we all need water to live, some enterprising companies have added ingredients to this essential beverage to increase its functionality. Functional waters are a fairly new concept, but they’re making big waves. You can now buy water containing everything from CBD and amino acids to fiber and protein. Caffeinated water is also a fan favorite.
Unlike sports and energy drinks, functional waters are typically low in calories and sugar, making them a healthier choice for the calorie-conscious. And they certainly help with hydration. As for the ingredients that make them functional, though? They generally appear in such small quantities that they aren’t likely to have much of an effect.
4. Functional Coffee
While not technically necessary for survival, coffee is a beverage many of us would have a tough time living without. Given the global popularity of this beloved brew, it’s no surprise that coffee is a focus of the functional beverage market. In America alone, 64 percent of consumers drink coffee daily.
Coffee on its own is considered by some experts to be a functional beverage because it contains compounds like caffeine (of course!) and antioxidants that have been associated with a variety of health benefits. Adding ingredients like fat, protein, herbs, and probiotics to coffee takes an already functional beverage we drink every day and makes it better.
Or does it? As is the case with functional water, functional coffee products often contain such minuscule amounts of active ingredients that they’re really not improving coffee’s functionality. While they sound good in theory, many functional coffees don’t actually deliver on their promises.
Honest Potency: the Wildcrafter Difference
Perhaps you’re wondering what sets Wildcrafter coffee apart from other functional beverages. The answer is simple: we provide measurable, meaningful amounts of botanicals with scientifically-demonstrated health benefits in the convenience of your coffee.
We’ve infused organic 100% Arabica coffee beans with plants that serve a purpose — boost your energy, channel your focus, instill a sense of calm, protect your defenses.* Each Wildcrafter blend contains therapeutic amounts of botanical ingredients and it requires a dietary supplement facts panel. We share every ingredient in our blends down to the milligram.
Just by brewing a cup of Wildcrafter coffee, you’re ensuring its potency. Brewing botanicals with hot water enhances the extraction of key compounds in our botanical blends. Unlike other functional beverages that contain mere traces of supposedly active ingredients, Wildcrafter blends are measurably effective. What they don’t contain? Sugar, GMOs, heavy metals, pesticides, or herbicides. We’re keeping it clean!
Wellness Within Reach
Functional beverages may be a trend, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth drinking. You can even make your own at home! Wildcrafter founder Tieraona Low Dog, MD, a physician who is considered to be one of the nation’s leading experts in botanicals, has formulated some tasty recipes for functional beverages you can whip up in your home kitchen.