Crazy for Caffeine


When people first see me for a consult they often tell me, very proudly, that they have cut caffeine from their diet. I always ask, why?

After a roller coaster of bad press, caffeine, found in its natural form in foods like coffee, tea leaves (green tea specifically), kola nuts, and cocoa beans (chocolate), has been proven to possess true health benefitsTo be clear, natural caffeine is NOT the same as the synthetic form used in soft drinks, energy drinks, and medications.

According to coffee lovers all around the world and mounting research, caffeine sharpens your mind, provides a vital boost of energy, and makes you more alert. Most studies have found that 2-4 cups of coffee (300-400 mg) per day can:

  • Increase longevity in women
  • Protect against heart disease (Note: blood pressure increases with intake from caffeinated soft drinks, but not natural sources.)
  • Lower risk of breast cancer and type II diabetes
  • Reduce odds of developing dementia
  • Enhance endurance and performance during workouts by decreasing muscle fatigue
  • Recommendations range from 1.5 to 3 mg per pound of body weight
  • Increase metabolism (up to 7-15% of resting metabolic rate) and improve waistline
  • Lower chances of developing kidney stones and gallstones
  • Act as a mild-antidepressant, and is associated with fewer suicides

Just how much is too much? 
Caffeine is a stimulant that excites the brain and may cause dependency. Although most people can tolerate 200-400 mg a day without unpleasant side effects, some people are more sensitive than others. The way you react to caffeine depends on multiple variables such as the amount you typically consume as well as your age and weight. Older adults and men are more susceptible to the effects of caffeine. Like most substances, tolerance increases with use. Heavy caffeine intake – in excess of 600 mg a day - may cause headaches, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, drowsiness, nervousness, stomach upset, and a depressed mood.

My tips for caffeine consumption: 

  • Timing is everything. Caffeine is completely absorbed by the body in 45 minutes, but the effects of an average cup of coffee can last up to 3 hours, with traces remaining for 10 hours! Get a boost of energy early in the day and avoid drinking/eating caffeinated products after 2 pm.
  • Try caffeine from natural sources. Note: the longer the brewing time (for coffee and tea), the higher the caffeine content. 
  • If you know you are sensitive to caffeine, cut down gradually or try decaf. Note: decaf is not completely free of caffeine. 
  • Read labels. Labels are required to list caffeine in the ingredients but not the amount. Go figure. 
  • Be medication savvy. Some meds and supplements, such as antibiotics (cipro, noroxin), theophylline, amphetamines (Ritalin), pain relievers, cold medicine, and Echinacea, will increase the effects of caffeine. Talk to your doctor/pharmacist about whether caffeine might affect your medications.
  • If you are pregnant, limit yourself to 1-2 cups of coffee. 
  • Don’t ditch water. Caffeine has been proven to be a mild diuretic, but it still counts for your total water intake. Caveat: caffeine products should be calorie-free and natural.  Soft drinks don’t count!
  • Bone smart. Upwards of 300 mg of caffeine a day may accelerate bone loss, especially in elderly women. Mix your coffee with milk to counteract loss.  
  • Caffeine should NOT be consumed by children. Preliminary research suggests that children who consume caffeine on a regular basis, even as little as 28 mg of day, are more restless, meeting criteria for ADHD, and show symptoms such as trouble thinking clearly, lethargy, and anger. Caffeine is not a nutrient and therefore is not necessary for a balanced diet. Bottom line: don’t take the risk.
  • Plain, brewed            8 oz   102-200 mg
  • Instant                       8 oz   27-173 mg
  • Espresso                   1 oz   30-90 mg
  • Plain, decaffeinated  8 oz   3-12 mg 
  • Tea, brewed              8 oz   40-120
  • Green tea                  8 oz   25-40 mg
  • Black tea                   8 oz   40-70 mg
  • Dark chocolate          1 oz  12 mg
  • Soda                          12 oz   35-55 mg
  • Energy drinks            8 oz   80-300 mg
  • OTC Meds                1 tablet  60-200 mg

Check out the Center for Science and Public Interest for more details. 

What is your take on caffeine?

Written and photographed by Alanna Cabrero, MS, RD 

Originally posted on NYHRC Tumblr. 


Is Caffeine the World’s BEST Drug? RedBook Mag.
Caffeine. Medicine Net
Caffeine Metabolism. Energy Fiend
Willet W. Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy.
Mahan S and Escott-Stump S. Krause’s Food & Nutrition Therapy.

Edited by TCabrarr