Do you drink coffee or tea first thing in the morning, hoping the caffeine will jump-start your day? According to scientists at the FDA, caffeine can be part of a healthy diet for most people, but too much caffeine may pose a danger to your health. Depending on factors such as body weight, medications you take, and individual sensitivity, “too much” can vary from person to person. Learn more about caffeine below.
Q. Which kinds of foods and beverages contain caffeine?
A. Caffeine can be found naturally in the plants we use to make coffee, tea, and chocolate. It’s also found in some plants used as flavorings, such as guarana, or alternative teas popular in South American, such as yerba mate. Caffeine may also be added as an ingredient to foods and beverages.
Q. How do you know how much caffeine a food or beverage contains?
A. Many packaged foods, including beverages and dietary supplements containing caffeine, voluntarily provide information on the label as to how much caffeine they contain. Consumers should take care when consuming a new packaged food containing added caffeine if the amount of caffeine in the food is not declared on the label.
There are several online databases that provide estimates of caffeine content of certain foods and beverages such as coffee and tea. However, the amount in these brewed beverages can vary. A 12-ounce can of a caffeinated soft drink typically contains 30 to 40 mg of caffeine, an 8-ounce cup of green or black tea 30-50 mg, and an 8-ounce cup of coffee closer to 80 to 100 mg. Caffeine in energy drinks can range from 40-250 mg per 8 fluid ounces.
Q. If a coffee or tea says “decaffeinated,” does that mean it contains no caffeine?
A. No. Decaf coffees and teas have less caffeine than their regular counterparts, but they still contain caffeine. For example, decaf coffee typically has 2-15 milligrams in an 8-ounce cup. If you react strongly to caffeine in a negative way, you may want to avoid these beverages altogether.
Q. How much caffeine is too much?
A. For healthy adults, the FDA has cited 400 milligrams a day—that’s about four or five cups of coffee—as an amount not generally associated with dangerous, negative effects. However, there is wide variation in both how sensitive people are to the effects of caffeine and how fast they metabolize it (break it down).
Certain conditions tend to make people more sensitive to caffeine’s effects, as can some medications. In addition, if you’re pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or breastfeeding, or are concerned about another condition or medication, we recommend talking to your health care provider about whether you need to limit caffeine consumption.
The FDA has not set a level for children, but the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages the consumption of caffeine and other stimulants by children and adolescents.
Q. How do you know if you’ve consumed more caffeine than you can tolerate?
A. Over-consuming caffeine can cause: insomnia; jitters; anxiousness; fast heart rate; upset stomach; nausea; headache; a feeling of unhappiness (dysphoria).
Q. Does caffeine pose a danger to your health?
A. The FDA estimates toxic effects, like seizures, can be observed with rapid consumption of around 1,200 mg of caffeine, or 0.15 tablespoons of pure caffeine.
Pure and highly concentrated caffeine products present a significant public health threat and have contributed to at least two deaths in the United States in the last few years. (Recently, the FDA took action to protect consumers from these products.)
Q. Is drinking a lot of caffeine a substitute for sleep?
A. No. Caffeine is a stimulant, which may cause you to be more alert and awake, but it is not a substitute for sleep. Typically, it can take 4 to 6 hours for your body to metabolize half of what you consumed. So, a cup of coffee at dinner may keep you awake at bedtime.
Q. How can I cut back on caffeine without causing unpleasant side effects?
A. If you drink caffeine-containing beverages every day and want to cut back, it’s best to do so gradually. Stopping abruptly can cause withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, anxiety, and nervousness. You may want to talk to your health care provider about how to cut back.