Caffeine is the world’s most popular stimulant. It can be found in coffee and tea, soft drinks and chocolate, making it easy to find, but also easy to over-consume.
The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) has warned that many of us overdose on caffeine daily. They say this excessive caffeine intake is affecting our health.
The side effects of caffeine overdose often start with feeling nauseous and jittery. More serious side effects include restlessness, anxiety, insomnia, and heart palpitations. Caffeine works by entering the bloodstream and altering receptors in your brain. It prevents adenosine, the tiredness chemical, from binding with the adenosine receptors, which keeps you awake.
According to EFSA guidelines, your daily caffeine intake should be no more than:
Of course, it’s all subjective, since caffeine tolerance varies between people. A shot of espresso can be a gentle pep for one person, and a full-on gut-punch to another.
Coffee and tea, soft drinks and chocolate, are for many a daily source of caffeine.
Coffee beans naturally contain a massive 840mg of caffeine in every 100g. When served as a drink this is, on average:
Tea leaves are also a natural source of caffeine. There is, on average:
Decaffeinated coffees and teas still contain caffeine but in very low quantities. Up to 97% of the caffeine is filtered out, meaning a decaf coffee can still contain around 7mg of caffeine. Herbal teas and fruit infusions tend not to contain actual tea leaves and are caffeine-free – you’ll need to check on a brand by brand basis, there is no one rule for all.
Soft drinks are not a natural source of caffeine, it is added into the drinks. This is done to add a slightly bitter taste to otherwise overly sweet drinks. Caffeine as a raw product is a white, crystalline powder, a bit like salt.
Chocolate is produced using cocoa beans. In their raw state, cocoa beans naturally contain a significant 230mg of caffeine in every 100g. This caffeine is retained when the beans are processed into cocoa solids. These solids are then used when making chocolate products.
To get the same buzz from chocolate as you would from standard coffee, you’d need to consume between two and four 100g bars. But the high fat and sugar content of chocolate would likely counteract the caffeine. You won’t feel alert – you’ll feel sick.
We all are. Overdosing on caffeine is a worldwide thing. It’s likely in any country where coffee, tea, and chocolate are sold, people are consuming too much caffeine.
Some stats. According to the EFSA:
Elsewhere in the world:
No. Caffeine isn’t inherently dangerous. It has its benefits. It can increase alertness and concentration. It can even boost your metabolism, which is why you’ll often find caffeine used in dietary supplements. There are ongoing studies on the positive effects of caffeine when fighting certain cancers and diseases such as Parkinson’s.
Overall, it’s best when used in moderation. If you know you’re overdoing it with caffeine, try switching some of your intake to caffeine-free alternatives. It’s worth knowing that caffeine is an addictive substance. In fact, it’s classed as a psychoactive drug. Whilst not as potent and dangerous as a hard drug like heroin, kicking the habit can be a struggle. A bit like a smoker addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes.