The Hidden Dangers Of Drinking Panera Bread's 'Charged Lemonade' Energy Drink

When 21-year-old University of Pennsylvania student Sarah Katz died of cardiac arrest after drinking Panera Bread's 'charged lemonade' energy drink, the internet went wild. The drink, marketed as "naturally flavored" and "plant-based" on their website, comes in three flavors: blood orange, strawberry lemon mint, and mango yuzu citrus. It contains a whopping 245 to 390 milligrams of caffeine, depending on what size you get. To put that into perspective, one shot of espresso contains 63 milligrams of caffeine, while one Red Bull energy drink (250 milliliters) contains 80 milligrams. 

Katz had a heart condition called long QT syndrome type 1, which disrupts the heart's electrical activity, and she supposedly stayed away from energy drinks because of this, according to the lawsuit filed by her parents (via NBC News). "Long QT syndrome is an abnormality of the way the heart beats," explained primary care physician Dr. Kavita Patel to NBC News. "Electricity is what the heart uses to beat and the Q and the T refer to the waves of the heart and those kind of being too long to recharge. When you add caffeine into the mix for someone with this syndrome, it can cause fatal arrhythmia."

While caffeine in small quantities isn't a problem for those with long QT syndrome, a high volume such as what is offered with Panera Bread's 'charged lemonade' energy drink can be fatal, according to Dr. Patel. Katz's untimely death has brought to light, once again, the hidden danger of consuming caffeinated food and drinks.

How much is too much caffeine?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that healthy adults keep their caffeine intake under 400 milligrams a day. Still, not everyone will tolerate coffee the same way. 

According to a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto, Ahmed El-Sohemy (via Toronto Star), research suggests some people metabolize coffee slowly. "For those individuals, consuming that amount of caffeine increases their risk of heart attacks, hypertension, prediabetes and kidney disease." Furthermore, the hidden danger with energy drinks like Panera Bread's 'charged lemonade' is that they are cold beverages that people often drink a lot faster that they might a hot cup of coffee. When consumed this way, "the peak concentrations of caffeine are much greater and those can cause other adverse effects including on the heart," he explained. 

Katz's parents are advocating via their lawyers for this energy drink to be removed from the shelves or at least come with a warning label, per CNN Business. Since the tragic incident, Panera Bread seems to have added a disclaimer of sorts, alerting customers to consume it in moderation. "Not recommended for children, people sensitive to caffeine, pregnant or nursing women," is another line visible on their website. Caffeine isn't the only concern with this beverage, however.  

The charged lemonade energy drink comes from guarana extract

Described as "the ultimate energy drink," Panera Bread's charged lemonade drink has caffeine derived from the Amazonian plant guarana and green coffee extract. Registered dietitian Lisa DeFazio told The Guardian that guarana is a stimulant as well. "Guarana caffeine is more powerful because it reacts differently in your stomach [...] This has a long-lasting, slow-burning, more intense effect."

The conversation surrounding the truth about what's really in energy drinks always almost points toward their sugar content, and this is a concern with the charged lemonade drink as well. Registered dietitian Jessica Cording told Shape that Panera Bread's regular sized charged lemonade beverage contains as much as 20.5 teaspoons of sugar. The American Heart Association recommends that men limit their added sugar intake to 9 teaspoons and women to 6 teaspoons. "While [I] don't know how much of that is from added sugar versus juice, there is no protein, fat, or fiber in this beverage. Such a large amount of sugar (simple carbohydrates) will spike your blood sugar pretty quickly," explained Cording. 

This isn't the first time Panera Bread's drinks were in the news. Content creator Sarah Baus posted a video about the drink on TikTok in 2022. In the video, Baus alerts viewers about how the highly caffeinated and sugary beverage made her feel like "the Hulk" and that the drink "should be illegal."