Can’t start the day without a cuppa? You’re not the only one. According to the Australian Beverage Council, Australians drink over 5 billion cups of coffee each day. Furthermore the consumption of energy drinks has quadrupled over the past 10 years. So, is all of this caffeine safe or silly?
What is caffeine?
Caffeine is a naturally occurring compound found in the leaves and fruits of certain plants. It is a central nervous system stimulant, so increases your alertness, and due to its relative safety and the energy boost it provides it has long been the most widely used drug in the world. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, soft drinks, energy drinks and chocolate, and is now being added to commercial foods such as chips and breakfast cereals.
What are the negatives?
Unfortunately (or fortunately depending upon your perspective), caffeine doesn’t eliminate the need for sleep; it only temporarily reduces the sensation of being tired. Taking too much caffeine can result in headaches, dizziness, sleeplessness, stomach upsets, irregular heartbeat, and even death if you consume enough of it in one day. As a dietitian I have seen many clients with stomach ulcers and irritability as a result of an overconsumption of caffeine.
As caffeine is a drug, if you’ve been taking too much over a long period of time, you will probably go through withdrawal as you try to cut down. Caffeine withdrawal symptoms may include tiredness, irritability, persistent headache and even muscle pain. The best way to minimise these symptoms is to reduce caffeine gradually. I often suggest starting by using a smaller cup and/or adding less coffee or tea. This will give your nervous system time to adapt to the lower levels of caffeine without too much stress.
How much is too much?
The precise amount of caffeine needed to produce stimulatory effects varies between people depending on body size and level of caffeine tolerance. Generally the effects of caffeine are able to be noticed within an hour and wear off after 3-4 hours.
Although there are no set guidelines for caffeine consumption in Australia, most authorities suggest that caffeine consumption be limited to less than 500mg per day, with some suggesting that less than 300mg per day is a wiser amount. During pregnancy, it is recommended to consume less than 200mg per day. This equates to one to two caffeinated drinks per day.
|Item Size||Typical caffeine content|
|Coffee Instant 300ml||120-300mg|
|Soft drinks 250ml||30-60mg|
|Energy drinks 250ml||80mg|
|Chocolate bar 30g||20-60mg|
|Caffeine tablet eg No-Doz 1 tablet||100mg|
Caffeine can interact negatively with some medications. People taking medications should check with their doctor as to whether high doses of caffeine, in foods or supplements can affect their health.
Is caffeine safe for children?
Due to their smaller size, caffeine affects the body much more readily in children. There have been numerous studies looking into the effects of caffeine on children. Children receive little benefit from regular caffeine intake, but do however experience the negative symptoms associated with withdrawal which can affect social, physical, emotional and educational aspects of their lives, so it is best avoided.
What types of caffeinated drinks are best?
I’d advise against soft drinks and energy drinks which are very acidic and terrible for teeth and bones. Tea and coffee also have the advantage of antioxidants which help protect body cells from damage. So, like most things in life, the best recommendation is moderation. Enjoy a cuppa a day, then focus on drinking water.
To do: Add up how much caffeine you’ve had today. Are you having too much?