Wake Up and Smell the Caffeine

Need a coffee to get through the day? Many of us cannot function until we’ve ingested caffeine into our body.

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.

What are the daily safe limits for caffeine?

According to EFSA guidelines, your daily caffeine intake should be no more than:

  • 400mg for an average adult.
  • 200mg for women who are pregnant. Caffeine presents a risk during pregnancy – your doctor will be your best source of advice.
  • 3mg per kg of body weight for a child.

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.

How much caffeine is in our food?

dark chocolate pieces

Coffee and tea, soft drinks and chocolate, are for many a daily source of caffeine.

Caffeine in coffee and tea.

Coffee beans naturally contain a massive 840mg of caffeine in every 100g. When served as a drink this is, on average:

  • 72mg in a 6 fl oz cup of filter coffee.
  • 64mg in a single shot of espresso.
  • 32mg in a teaspoon of instant coffee. It’ll still be there after you’ve added the hot water.

Tea leaves are also a natural source of caffeine. There is, on average:

  • 52mg in black tea, with or without milk, in an 8 fl oz cup.
  • 36mg in green tea in an 8 fl oz cup.

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.

Caffeine in soft drinks.

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.

  • A standard can (330ml) of cola, regular and reduced sugar, contains some 30mg.
  • Energy drinks; Monster, Red Bull, AMP, contain around 80mg in their regular sized versions.
  • Most other soft drinks; lemonade, Sprite, cream soda, are caffeine-free.

Caffeine in chocolate.

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.

  • Dark chocolate contains around 43mg of caffeine in a 100g bar.
  • Milk chocolate averages 20mg per 100g.
  • White chocolate is not made using cocoa solids and contains no caffeine.

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.

Who’s overdosing on caffeine?

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:

  • Over one-third of Danish people exceed 400mg of caffeine daily, along with;
  • 17% of Germans, and;
  • 14% of Dutch citizens

Elsewhere in the world:

  • Over half of all Americans take more than 300mg daily.
  • Some 76% of Italians consume coffee daily, around half of whom exceed their recommended level.

Is caffeine the devil’s work?

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.

Have Your Say

3 comments on 'Wake Up and Smell the Caffeine'

  1. Oh my!

    You’ve made me realise I’m literally doped up from too much caffeine!

    It is definitely an addiction, I can’t stop. I have a strong coffee at breakfast, another mid-morning, tea in the afternoon, and my early evening treat of a coffee with some dark chocolate. I enjoy the mocha-like experience. When we went out at lunch as an office, pre-Covid, I would often have diet coke with my food.

    I don’t get headaches, but I’m now assuming this is because I’m constantly topping up my levels. I sometimes feel brain-foggy in the mornings before coffee.

    Guess I need to learn to love water.

  2. I believe l read somewhere that caffeine turns to dopamine in the human brain. No wonder it is addictive, no wonder we suffer caffeine withdrawal headache

  3. Thanks for the info Rachel. It’s so easy to blindly consume too much caffeine on any given day. Cup of coffee in the morning, a bar of chocolate mid-morning, tea in the afternoon.

    Dark chocolate is often recommended for people trying to lose weight and I can see why. The cocoa to sate cravings, the caffeine to give a bit of an energy boost. Shame about all the sugar content, but hey, in moderation I think it’s fine.

    I absolutely hate the low-fat foods con that diet companies use on weak-willed people, it’s the worst thing ever and so wrong. I’m forever trying to educate my friends that low-fat foods are not going to help them lose weight. If anything, they usually do the opposite. You should do an article on it.

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