Are we addicted to caffeine?

How much is too much caffeine? Is caffeine good for you? Well, the answer is not as simple as yes or no. It depends on what drink you choose. Let’s break it down!

How much is too much caffeine? A detailed comparison of caffeine content in various popular beverages
Caffeine is a natural stimulant most commonly found in tea, coffee, and cacao plants. Image/Shutterstock

Fun fact: Caffeine is the drug of choice for infants suffering apnea of maturity, or a condition where breathing stops for more than 20 seconds that affect proper breathing. Interesting!

What is Caffeine?

Caffeine is a stimulant that is naturally found most commonly in coffee, tea, and cocoa (or cacao). Caffeine can be added to energy drinks, soft drinks, and some prescription and non-prescription drugs such as pain, menstrual pain, and allergy medications. Caffeine greatly affects the brain, and research has shown that drinking it is associated with improved mood, increased alertness, better short-term memory, and decreased depression/suicidality risk.

Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system and boosts energy. Caffeine has also been shown to benefit athletes by decreasing their perceived effort in their athletic performance.

However, some things to keep in mind is that caffeine is a diuretic, meaning it makes the body excrete more urine, which includes salt and water. So, it is important to drink an extra cup of water per cup of caffeinated beverage to replace fluid in the body and prevent dehydration (source: medlineplus).

Caffeine can cause increased acid production in the stomach, leading to heartburn for some individuals. If you suffer from heartburn or acid reflux, you may want to avoid caffeine by choosing caffeine-free options.

There is no consensus on how much caffeine will improve mental function, however, more is not necessarily better. One cup of coffee may be all that is needed to reap the benefits. One study showed that waiting 8 hours between consumption of caffeine showed benefits as opposed to consuming caffeinated drinks back-to-back.

What happens when you stop drinking coffee?

Withdrawal can happen if you kick your caffeine intake. Symptoms can include nervousness, nausea, constipation, irritability, muscle aches, and headaches, and these occur 12-24 hours after stopping caffeine consumption. This can last a week or so until being able to feel back to normal without any caffeine.

When is caffeine dangerous?

Caffeine in the form of supplements are potentially dangerous – 1 teaspoon of caffeine powder is equivalent to 28 cups of coffee! Stay away from caffeine supplements like this.

Make sure you keep your caffeine intake to less than 400mg per day or 200mg if you are pregnant. This amount of caffeine per day is considered safe and many of us enjoy our daily coffee or caffeinated beverage of choice. It is not impossible to overdose on caffeine by drinking it, but it is more likely with supplements and pills.

If you are consuming greater than 400mg or are experiencing side effects such as headache, insomnia, nervousness, irritability, frequent urination, fast heartbeat, or muscle tremors, it is important to cut back on your caffeine intake or switch to decaffeinated beverages like herbal tea or decaf coffee (source: mayoclinic)

If you are drinking any of these beverages below daily, you are consuming caffeine regularly. Avoid sugar-sweetened caffeinated beverages like soft drinks and energy drinks, and instead, choose natural sources of caffeine such as coffee and tea. Diet soda must be researched further for its long-term effects, so it is best to avoid sugar and artificial sweeteners as much as possible if consuming regularly.

Caffeine content in the top beverages from highest to lowest:

Caffeine Supplements Facts

Caffeine Supplements Facts

  • Monster – 160mg in 16oz can (80mg per serving)
  • Red Bull – 111mg in a 12oz can
  • Coffee – 95mg in 1 cup
  • Espresso – 64mg in 1 shot
  • Matcha – 60mg in 1 tablespoon
  • Black tea – 50mg in 1 cup
  • Diet Coke – 42mg in 12oz can
  • Green tea – 40mg in 1 cup
  • Pepsi – 38mg in 12oz can
  • Diet Pepsi – 35mg in 12oz can
  • Coke – 30mg in 12oz can
  • Sprite – 0mg (caffeine free)

Note: Some soft drinks like Sprite do not contain caffeine. These will specifically say “CAFFEINE FREE” on them.

To determine the sugar content in your caffeinated beverages, look at the nutrition label at the total sugars section. If the drink has added sugar, it will say “Includes ___ g Added Sugars”. Aim for zero in this column.

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Sara Barsky-Weiss, RDN

Sara Barsky-Weiss, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist in the NYC area. Sara is a newly certified RDN and is excited to begin h