Caffeine Awareness Month: A Wrap-Up of Lessons Learned

While thumbing through a number of articles and recent publications, as well as speaking with experts on the topic, I thought it would be a nice touch to share with you a few things I learned this month about the caffeine buzz.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Julie M. Jones, Endowed Chair in Science at St. Catherine University, and learned a few things about caffeine sources and content.

caffeine content chart

*Due to brewing method, plant variety, formulation, etc.
Revised 2016 from IFIC Foundation (1998); Mayo Clinic, 2015; Mitchell et. al., 2014.

What is the daily recommendation for caffeine for a middle-aged man like myself?

Many suggest that it is safe to consume up to 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine, which is equal to four to five cups of brewed coffee, 10 cans of soda or two "energy shot" drinks.  However, people have different degrees of tolerance—some who are very sensitive may react adversely, even with lower intakes.

What are the common sources of caffeine and how much do they contain?

Caffeine is found in cocoa, coffee beans, tea leaves, kola, yerba mate and guarana berries. It can also be added to some foods, soft drinks and medications.

The following chart provides a quick, handy guide to understanding the different caffeine amounts in various foods and beverages.

Is it OK to mix and match sources of caffeine (i.e., can I drink tea or coffee with my chocolate almond bar)?

Absolutely.  It is the total amount that matters.  So you can enjoy your cup of “morning Joe” for a quick pick-me-up before work, drink a tea with your lunch, then enjoy a dark chocolate bar for a sweet dessert. So long as you stay under or at 400 milligrams of total caffeine consumption, the different sources won’t matter.

You will need to be careful with caffeine amounts in certain drugs, especially ones with higher concentrations of caffeine such as “No-Doz” and “Vivarin,” or for drugs that change the rate of caffeine breakdown, like antibiotics.

What is the most important thing consumers should know when it comes to caffeine sources?

The amounts in sources differ dramatically, but they all can add up—so think about a daily total.  Caffeine has health benefits, but excess consumption could lead to potentially negative effects. Like everything else in nutrition, remember moderation, balance and variety.