Author: Betty Kovacs, MS, RD
Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
- What is caffeine?
- What are the sources of caffeine?
- Is caffeine addictive?
- Is caffeine a diuretic?
- Can you consume too much caffeine?
- Does caffeine cause heart disease?
- Does caffeine cause bone loss?
- Does caffeine help with weight loss?
- Is caffeine safe during pregnancy?
- Should caffeine be consumed by children?
- How much fluid do we need?
- Caffeine FAQs
What is caffeine?
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. Approximately 90% 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 20%-30% consume more than 600 mg daily. The top three sources of caffeine in adults are coffee (70%), soda (16%), and tea (12%).
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:
|Plain, brewed 8 oz||
135 mg (range 102-200)
|Instant 8 oz||95 mg (range 27-173)|
|Espresso 1 oz||40 mg (range 30-90)|
|Plain, decaffeinated 8 oz||5 mg (range 3-12)|
|Tea, brewed||53 mg (range 40-120)|
|Green tea 8 oz||25-40 mg|
|Black tea 8 oz||40-70 mg|
|Barq's Root Beer||22 mg|
|Coca-Cola Classic 12 oz||35 mg|
|Diet Coke 12 oz||47 mg|
|Dr. Pepper 12 oz||42 mg|
|Dr. Pepper, diet 12 oz||44 mg|
|Jolt Cola 12 oz||72 mg|
|Mountain Dew, regular or diet 12 oz||54 mg|
|Mountain Dew, MDX, regular or diet 12 oz||71 mg|
|Pepsi-Cola 12 oz||38 mg|
|Pepsi, diet 12 oz||36 mg|
|Sunkist Orange 12 oz||42 mg|
|Tab 12 oz||46.5 mg|
|Vault 12 oz||71 mg|
|Full Throttle 16 oz||144 mg|
|Monster Energy 16 oz||160 mg|
|Red Bull 8.5 oz||80 mg|
|Rip It 8 oz||100 mg|
|SoBe No Fear 8 oz||130 mg|
|Spike Shooter 8.4 oz||300 mg|
|Chocolate, candies, other|
|Candy, milk chocolate 1 bar (1.5 oz)||9 mg|
|Candy, sweet chocolate 1 bar (1.45 oz)||27 mg|
|Cocoa mix, powder 3 tsp||5 mg|
|Hershey's Special Dark Chocolate Bar 1.45 oz||31 mg|
|Hot cocoa 8 oz||9 mg (range 3-13 mg)|
|Jolt caffeinated gum 1 stick||33 mg|
|Puddings, chocolate, ready to eat 4 oz||9 mg|
|Ben & Jerry's Coffee Heath Bar Crunch 8 oz||84 mg|
|Ben & Jerry's Coffee Flavored ice cream 8 oz||68 mg|
|Häagen-Dazs Coffee ice cream 8 oz||58 mg|
|Häagen-Dazs Coffee frozen yogurt 8 oz||58 mg|
|Medicine: over the counter|
|Excedrin Extra Strength 1 tablet||65 mg|
|Bayer Select Maximum Strength||65.4 mg|
|Midol Menstrual Maximum Strength||60 mg|
|NoDoz Maximum Strength 1 tablet||200 mg|
|Pain Reliever Tablets||65 mg|
|Vivarin 1 tablet||200 mg|
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