Is Caffeine Bad for You?
by Lindsay Redifer
How many cups of coffee or cans of soda do you drink throughout the day – two? Four? More? If you find you need to caffeinate continuously through a work day or a run of classes, you may be setting yourself up for some serious health problems. Caffeine is a powerful ingredient and its effects can last much longer than the time it takes to sip your latte. If you have a caffeine habit you may need to reassess your consumption.
Caffeine: The Basics
Caffeine is a compound derived from plants and classified as a legal drug such as alcohol and nicotine. It interacts with the nervous system within fifteen minutes of consumption and helps you feel more alert and focused. The effect lasts up to six hours and then fades.
Classified as a legal drug like nicotine or alcohol, caffeine is socially acceptable despite its ability to alter our mental state. It’s regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, (FDA), but it doesn’t always have to be listed as an ingredient. Some of your favorite cereals, ice cream flavors, and even pudding can have caffeine in them but aren’t required to say so. As long as the product has less than 71 mg in a 12 oz serving. You will find it in the list of ingredients in chocolate, soda, tea, coffee, and energy drinks. Some painkillers also have caffeine to help you fight off a headache.
How Much is Too Much?
Unless you’re pregnant or managing some health problems, two cups of coffee a day is fine. The World Health Organization, (WHO), suggests no more than 400 mg a day, (those two mugs of joe), per person.
Unfortunately, many people drink far more than this manageable amount. You may live for diet soda, telling yourself it’s fine because there’s no sugar, but all that caffeine is doing tons of damage to your nerves and your stomach. It can also interrupt your sleep and give you a muscle tremor. If you sip espresso all day, you could be in for the same troubles even if you take it plain.
If you find that you feel bad after only one chai tea or cappuccino, you may be one of many people who are naturally sensitive to caffeine. If that’s the case, you may want to stick to herbal tea, herbal coffee or sparkling water to quench your thirst. These are all non-caffeinated options that won’t interrupt your sleep or make you jittery during your next big presentation.
The Drug in Your Mug
So, how many milligrams of caffeine are you actually consuming? Here’s a quick breakdown of how much caffeine each food contains according to the WHO.
8 oz of coffee, brewed – 95 to 165 mg
1 shot of espresso – 47 to 64 mg
8 oz of instant coffee – 63 mg
8 oz latte or mocha – 63 to 126 mg
8 oz brewed black tea – 25 to 48 mg
8 oz brewed green tea – 25 to 29 mg
bottled tea – 5 to 40 mg
8 oz Cola – 24- 46 mg
8 oz energy drink – 27 to 164 mg
1 oz energy shot – 40 to 100 mg
Keep in mind that an eight-ounce serving is a small amount of liquid. It’s equivalent to the full measuring cup in your kitchen. If your drinks are bigger than that, be sure to opt for caffeine-free choices as you go about your day.
Cutting Down on Caffeine
If you feel your stomach going sour or find yourself tossing and turning all night, it may be time to put down the coffee mug and pick up some herbal tea. Be careful, an abrupt stop to all caffeine consumption can backfire. You may find yourself struggling to get through your day or with a bad caffeine headache as you go through withdrawal.
Start with some simple observations. Estimate the amount of caffeine you are already drinking each day. You can do with this a quick food journal and a calculator. Remember that your numbers will likely be low as many servings listed on labels are much less than we normally eat or drink. Crunch your numbers over the course of a week and then set a goal. Aim to cut that number down by a quarter the next week.
After that first week, continue to cut back gradually. Start with one less soda or coffee, then two cups less and so on. Habits are hard to change so go easy on yourself and forgive yourself if you slip one day.
Decide if your goal is less caffeine or none at all. Believe it or not, a caffeine-free existence is possible. There are great, naturally decaffeinated products available to help you get the flavor you want without the additives. You may see big changes in yourself such as more control over your cravings, better energy at the end of the day, (because you avoid the afternoon crash), and deeper sleep. Also, your stomach acid will be lower and you won’t feel heartburn or indigestion throughout the day.
Best Alternatives to Coffee, Soda, and Tea
So what can we drink if we aren’t drinking coffee? Don’t stress over taking this delicious drink out of your diet. You can still have some great beverages that give you energy naturally and keep you sharp.
Instead of coffee, opt for mushroom or herbal coffee made by a reliable company. This will give you lots of energy without dragging your health down.
If you live for a latte, try a green, matcha latte. Matcha is a green Japanese tea that comes in a powder and has a unique taste. It’s often referred to as Gunpowder Tea because it blasts you with energy.
To replace your soda, go for a bottle of flavored sparkling water or kombucha. Kombucha has small amounts of caffeine as it’s made from fermented tea, but it’s far less than a traditional cup. The microorganisms will keep you going all day and make you feel great.
Most importantly, listen to your body. You know yourself better than anyone else, so if your body is crying out in pain, listen and treat it well. You deserve it.