Betty is a Registered Dietitian who earned her B.S. degree in Food and Nutrition from Marymount College of Fordham University and her M.S. degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. She is the Co-Director and Director of nutrition for the New York Obesity Research Center Weight Loss Program.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
There are few people who are not aware of the stimulating
effect that caffeine provides. We have a choice and choose caffeinated beverages for a reason. Caffeine is considered the most commonly used psychoactive drug in the world.
A majority of adults consume it on a daily basis, and research is being done on its health benefits and consequences.
We may love our caffeine, but what exactly is it? Caffeine is the common name for 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine. When purified, caffeine produces an intensely bitter white powder that provides a distinctive taste in soft drinks. The word "caffeine" came from the German word
kaffee and the French word café, each meaning coffee. After ingesting caffeine, it is completely absorbed within 30 to 45 minutes, and its effects substantially diminish within about three hours. It is eventually excreted so there is no accumulation in the body. Caffeine has been shown to affect mood, stamina, the cerebral vascular system, and gastric and colonic activity. But caffeine may not be for everyone. This article will discuss the health benefits and consequences of caffeine.
What are the sources of caffeine?
Caffeine is naturally found in certain leaves, beans, and fruits of over 60 plants worldwide. Its bitterness acts as a deterrent to pests. The most common sources in our
diet are coffee, tea leaves, cocoa beans, cola, and energy drinks. Caffeine can also be produced synthetically and added to food, beverages, supplements, and medications. Product labels are required to list caffeine in the ingredients but are not required to list the actual amounts of the substance.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Medical Association (AMA) classify a "moderate intake" of caffeine as "generally recognized as safe." This means that if you consume a moderate amount it is generally safe for the people on whom it has been studied. Most of these studies have been done on adults. Here is the definition of what is considered low, moderate, high, and heavy amounts of caffeine intake:
a low to moderate intake is 130 mg-300 mg per day
a moderate is 200 mg-300 mg per day
high doses are above 400 mg per day
heavy caffeine consumption is more than 6,000 mg/day.
It is estimated that the average daily caffeine consumption among Americans is about 280 mg/day, while
some people consume more than 600 mg daily. The top three sources of caffeine in
adults are coffee, soda, and tea.
One mistake that people make is assuming that decaffeinated means that there is no caffeine in the food or beverage. Decaffeinating happens through a process. According to the site Coffeeresearch.org, decaffeinating coffee usually consists of soaking the beans in water to dissolve the caffeine, extracting the caffeine with a solvent or activated carbon, and then re-soaking the beans in the decaffeinated water to reabsorb the flavor compounds that were lost in the initial extract. A study published by the
Journal of Analytical Toxicology found that nine out of 10 tested cups of decaf coffee from coffee from shops and restaurants contained 8.6
mg-13.9 mg of caffeine. It also found that decaffeinated espresso shots contained 3
mg-16 mg of caffeine per shot. Another study done by Consumer Reports tested 36 cups of small decaf coffees from six locations. They found that more than half had less than 5 mg of caffeine while the rest had a range from 20
mg-32 mg per cup. Depending on how much you consume in a day, you can end up consuming more caffeine from decaffeinated drinks than you would in one cup of coffee.
There is no way to know for sure exactly how much caffeine you consume so it's a good idea to put a limit on the total amount caffeinated and decaffeinated products that you consume. You can also choose products with lower caffeine contents. You won't find the content on the food labels, so refer to this chart. Make sure that you check the serving size on the can, bottle, or cup and do the math based on the serving size provided here:
Up to 90% of adult Americans consume caffeine every day. Most commonly, the caffeine is in coffee, tea, soft drinks, and chocolate. This adds up to an average of about 280 mg of caffeine per day, or the equivalent of about two cups of coffee. Many people who consume caffeine on a regular basis report that they experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms when this popular stimulant is withdrawn, similar to the symptoms felt with the withdrawal of other addictive substances.