Are All Forms of Caffeine Created Equal?

Megan Smith, @meganmichel33, University of Maryland Dietetic Intern

Thank goodness caffeine exists in this world. What would we do without that extra little boost that makes us feel so happy and productive?  

But are all forms of caffeine created equal?

The answer is no, but sadly, this was not made apparent until an Ohio teenager recently ingested a pure powdered form of caffeine, containing dangerously high amounts of caffeine, and passed away just days before his graduation. But what does this mean for caffeine we consume in foods and beverages every day? Do you need to be concerned?

Pure powdered caffeine is far more potent than what you consume in your average cup of coffee. In fact, just one teaspoon of powdered caffeine contains 2,500 mg of caffeine, or the amount in approximately 25 8-ounce home-brewed cups of coffee!* The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a statement upon news of the teen’s death from pure caffeine powder, warning consumers to be aware of the high potency of powdered caffeine.

According to recent intake studies, average daily caffeine consumption in the U.S. is below 400 mg/day, which is considered to be in the moderate range, and has not changed significantly in the last 15 years, despite the introduction of energy drinks (which, on average, contain the same amount of caffeine in a 10-ounce serving as an 8-ounce cup of home-brewed coffee*).

The science shows caffeine is safe for the general population, when used for its intended purpose and in the intended amounts in foods and beverages. Additionally, research shows moderate caffeine consumption improves mental alertness, efficiency, energy, and clear-headedness. However, those with a history of heart disease or high blood pressure may be more sensitive to caffeine and should consult with a health professional regarding their caffeine intake.       

So since most of us can’t imagine a day without that caffeine ‘supercharge,’ remember that the caffeine you are consuming in your preferred caffeinated beverage – coffee, tea, soda, or energy drink – when consumed in moderate amounts, is safe as part of an overall healthful diet. The amount of caffeine in these foods and beverages comes nowhere near the amount of caffeine in even just a teaspoon of pure powdered caffeine. Caffeine may come from multiple sources, so remember to keep your total intake from all sources, including foods, beverages, and medications at or below 400 mg/day.


For a table of caffeine-containing foods and beverages and their range of caffeine content, view the IFIC Foundation Caffeine Review: Caffeine & Health: Clarifying the Controversies

* The average amount of caffeine in one 8-ounce cup of home-brewed coffee is approximately 100 mg.