What Makes Dunkin's Charli D'Amelio Drink So Concerning

While Dunkin' isn't quite as well-known for its secret menu as is rival Starbucks, still, there are always people (bloggers, vloggers, and influencers of all stripes) who like to make fast food employees' lives difficult by coming up with new spins on old ingredients. Most of these secret menu item creators aren't exactly household names themselves, no matter how popular their creations may be — who even knows who came up with Starbucks Pink Drink, which may be one of the most successful secret menu-to-main menu crossover items ever?

Occasionally, though, there's some crossover when a celebrity will decide to tack their name onto their standing order at a favorite chain, as with the Travis Scott and J Balvin meals — a part of McDonald's main menu for a limited time. Dunkin's own celeb menu item, the Charli D'Amelio drink, hasn't been officially adopted nationwide by the chain, so it remains in the secret menu realm, but Nutrition Counselor & Researcher Joan Ifland, Ph.D., founder of Food Addiction Reset, says it isn't healthy for anyone.

The Charli D'Amelio drink targets teens

Charli D'Amelio, if you're not part of her core demographic, is a 16-year-old TikToker who posts videos of herself dancing — extremely popular videos, as she's racked up over 80 million viewers and even landed some commercial deals, magazine interviews, a shot at her own reality show. Well, one natural endorsement for her would seem to be Dunkin', since even without the chain paying her, she's said she is a fan and always seems to show herself drinking their coffee in each video she makes — not just plain old coffee, though. Instead, D'Amelio goes for a specialty version which she further customizes: a cold brew with whole milk and three pumps of caramel swirl flavoring.

Ifland calls this drink, and the fact that Dunkin' is actively promoting it via its own social media even if it's not on the menu, "a new low in the addiction business mode." She says it's especially reprehensible that this drink is clearly marketed towards the under-20s, since "targeting the teen demographic with caffeine, sugar, and dairy is damaging." Ifland goes on to explain that "teens are already suffering from hormonal shifts [and] they experience this as heightened anxiety and mood swings." The main problem with this highly-caffeinated drink, she says, is that "caffeine makes [these mood swings] much worse."

What makes this drink so dangerous?

The Charli drink is obviously not a healthy one from a nutritional standpoint, since apart from its fat and sugar content, side effects of excess caffeine consumption may include insomnia, hunger pangs, and heart palpitations. Ifland, however, is even more concerned about the mental health effects its ingredients may have. A medium Dunkin cold brew has 260 milligrams of caffeine. Ifland explains caffeine "works by blocking a calmness function in the nervous system," and explains that, contrary to what people may think, "Caffeine doesn't make people more alert. It makes them less calm." 

Those three caramel syrup pumps aren't helping any, either. Ifland says that this added liquid sugar "destabilizes blood glucose and contributes to mood swings" and warns that anyone consuming high amounts of sugar "can experience heightened anxiety." Hyper, moody, anxious...yes, not exactly a feel-good potion for teens or adults. While Ifland notes that this drink is undoubtedly addictive, and has previously spoken on the dangers of celebrity endorsers helping to reinforce food addiction, she decries the Charli as "not a healthy beverage for a teenager, or anyone else for that matter."