As a tea drinker who relies on her morning cup to kick start her day, I understand the need for caffeine. For me, there’s nothing better than enjoying my morning with a warm beverage to wake up and begin my hectic day. As a Nutrition Coach, I have worked with countless clients who drink caffeine and I am frequently asked the same question, “How much is too much?”
How much caffeine is beneficial to your body and how does it affect you? Is your caffeine intake the reason you toss and turn at night, struggling to fall asleep? After much research, I was surprised by the answers and you may be too.
One of the most astounding facts I’ve learned is that caffeine is hidden in a number of seemingly innocent products! In addition to the obvious sources such as coffee, tea and soda, caffeine is also found in chocolate, “coffee drinks”, many energy/ performance drinks and various pain killers, cold medications, diet pills and even some gum products and juice drinks! The truth is, you may just be taking in a lot more caffeine than you bargained for.
According to experts, caffeine is in fact a stimulant to the central nervous system and may cause dependency. Though no doubt less harmful than drugs and alcohol, I have witnessed many intense dependencies on caffeine from my clients and it never fails to concern me as their Nutrition Coach. I distinctly remember one gentleman I worked with years ago. When I asked him how much coffee he drinks in a day, he replied, “About two or three.” Imagine my surprise when I dug a little deeper and realized he meant two or three “pots” of coffee, not “cups”!
So how much is too much? According to experts, approximately 300 milligrams of caffeine per day is fine for most healthy adults. That’s the equivalent of about 3 cups of coffee. For older adults or those suffering from high blood pressure, 300 milligrams may be too much and an appropriate amount of caffeine per day should be discussed with your doctor. Experts do agree that the power of caffeine affects each of us differently, meaning that for even healthy adults, that three cups a day may be too much.
After all, if someone drinks 3 cups of coffee or caffeinated beverages per day, at least one of those beverages would typically be consumed in the afternoon or at night. I have found that my clients who drink caffeine in the latter part of the afternoon, typically have major sleeping issues. Luckily enough, the remedy is always simple. Slowly reduce the amount of caffeine over time to help release the body naturally from the dependency. (For tips on how to reduce caffeine successfully, keep reading!).
Though not conclusive, caffeine does appear to have some benefits. Caffeine gives a burst of mental alertness and energy and is a must for many of us first thing in the morning (myself included!). Other studies suggest that caffeine helps to boost the immune system and may aid in some allergic reactions by reducing histamines.
So, what are the downfalls of caffeine? Caffeine may in fact cause restlessness and insomnia in certain people. It actually takes 8-10 hours for 75% of the caffeine in your coffee to be eliminated from your body! Yes, you read that correctly……eight to ten hours! That is why a morning cup of joe most likely won’t affect your sleep but a cup in the afternoon likely will, especially if your sensitive to caffeine. Now restless sleep in itself may not seem like such a bad thing at first but if you really think about it, a lack of sleep can be incredibly detrimental to your health. A lack of sleep causes anxiety, crankiness, carbohydrate cravings, weight gain and possibly an increased risk for many diseases. So that small cup of coffee in the afternoon is in fact having BIG consequences.
What are some of the other adverse side effects? For those people with caffeine sensitivities, nervousness or gastrointestinal disturbances are common. In larger amounts (about 700 plus milligrams) there is an increased loss of calcium and magnesium from the urine, though new research suggests that as long as you have an adequate calcium intake through diet, you are not at a higher risk for osteoporosis. Experts do recommend that you add a few tablespoons of milk to your coffee. For older adults, there may be an increased risk of fractures and it’s very important to speak to your doctor about how much caffeine is safe for you. Anyone with high blood pressure should also speak to their doctor about their caffeine intake because it may cause a small rise in heart rate and blood pressure. For pregnant women or those who are trying, the March of Dimes recommends no more than 200 milligrams per day and to consult one’s physician for personal caffeine parameters.
So what’s the bottom line? Essentially a small amount of caffeine, in the morning or very early in the afternoon is okay for most healthy adults. If you are currently consuming more than you should and would like to cut back for health reasons or to improve your quality of sleep, there are a number of ways to do so. Here’s some tips that will help:
1. Start reading food and drink labels to get an idea of just how much caffeine you are taking in on a daily basis.
2. Never quit cold-turkey! Caffeine withdrawal can be severe for some people. A better solution is to cut back slowly. For example, if you’re used to having a big cup of coffee in the morning followed by a diet coke for a pick-me-up in the afternoon, start with small steps. Fill your coffee cup only ¾ or ½ of the way or order ½ regular, ½ decaf. Instead of a full can of diet coke, cut it back to half. You’ll find that you still feel the same because your body is still getting the caffeine. Slowly work on eliminating caffeine in the later afternoon (the key word is slowly!).
3. Try finding substitutions. I used to work at a coffee shop as a teenager and lived on flavored ice coffees. I decided to make the switch to black tea instead because of the extra antioxidants and because tea has less caffeine than coffee. In the morning, I have one cup of tea. In the afternoon, I now opt for decaf green tea for a it’s antioxidant and metabolism boosting effects.
Remember, like many things in life, a little goes a long way. Live well!
Lead Nutrition Coach and Head Chef
*all information derived from webmd.com