Reader question: I've recently given up diet soda, but I miss the caffeine (and hate coffee). I've been trying organic sparkling energy water, which contains organic caffeine, 150 percent niacin, 150 percent B6, and 150 percent vitamin B12…with 0 calories. Is there any downside to organic energy drinks?

Ashley’s answer: Congrats on getting rid of diet soda chemicals and choosing an organic "energy" drink. My answer to your question lies in those quotation marks, however. Today, stores are filled with products promoted as energy providers, but if they, like your diet soda of yesterday and your sparkling water of today, provide no calories, then they also provide no energy. That's right, the word "energy" there is a bold-faced lie! But that doesn't mean that these products don't give you a boost, right? I'm not saying they don't "work," but what they are doing is not what you think they're doing.

The energy drink you just downed caused your heart to work harder than it has to. Click here to find out how.

If you're confused, imagine what your body thinks. These calorie-free products, even the organic ones, are providing a stimulant boost, which is not the same thing as energy. We have come to believe that having or getting energy is the same thing as the high that we feel after consuming a stimulant.

But it's not. In fact, the only thing that can give our bodies energy are calories, and we get different energy from different calories: carbs give us quick energy, fats more sustained energy, and so on. Relying on a non-caloric organic beverage for stimulant boost is like pushing on the gas pedal when your car has no gas. Your need for the energy boost is likely coming from a suboptimal energy nutrition plan—not enough gas in the car, or not the right balance of gas, oil, and air in the tires. (Since I don't know your medical history, there could be other factors. You would need to work with a healthcare practitioner to assess what they are and how to address them.)

Are energy drinks the best way to avoid an afternoon slump?

What if you were to have your "non-caloric stimulant boost water" (we can see why they call it something different, because that's so not sexy, right?) with food so that you got calories for energy? My bet is most days, you wouldn't need your stimulant boost water, and you might even realize that it over-stimulates you. These are good things to pay attention to so that the body doesn't get out of balance. But there could be some days when you want that non-caloric stimulant boost, and if so, I would suggest organic tea or an organic cacao shot.

If you love your organic sparkling water, enjoy it and make sure to balance it out with quality foods for optimal energy as well as good sleep, stress reduction techniques, and perhaps additional magnesium. Long and short, I can't name any benefits of having the stimulant you mention, but as long as you make an informed choice—and recognize it's not an energy providing source—you can probably include it sometimes without risk.

Tired all the time? Skip the coffee in favor of these natural energy boosters.

Ashley Koff is a registered dietitian, Qualitarian, nutrition expert, and co-author of Mom Energy:  A Simple Plan to Live Fully Charged (Hay House; 2011) as well as Recipes for IBS (Fair Winds Press; 2007).