Caffeine: Good or Bad?

by in Healthy Tips, February 19, 2009

Many people jump start the morning — and afternoon — with a big cup of coffee or even a cold soda. Why? Because they want the energy-boosting caffeine. But how much is too much? Here are some tips to help you assess your daily dose.

What is Caffeine?
Plain and simple, caffeine is a stimulant. Consuming too much can increase heart rate and cause anxiety, stomach upset and excessive urination. And no, contrary to popular belief, caffeine doesn’t help you “sober up” after too many cocktails.

So how much is too much? The amount in 20 fluid ounces or about two and half cups of coffee — that’s about 250 milligrams — is considered moderate or “average.” If you consume more than this on a regular basis, you may want to consider cutting back. Caffeine is mildly addictive; withdrawal symptoms include headaches and fatigue.

Too much caffeine can also stand in the way of calcium absorption and may interfere with some medications. Women that are pregnant or may become pregnant should also keep their intake limited (a cup of coffee or one caffeinated soda a day – tops!).

Not Just in Beverages
Caffeine exists naturally in coffee, tea and cocoa so you should expect to find it in coffee- and chocolate-containing foods. Manufacturers often add it to soft drinks, energy drinks and some gum and candies — as an energy booster or stimulant. Some cold medicines, pain relievers and appetite suppressants have added caffeine as well.

Americans love their caffeine — soda, coffee, chocolate and more. Want to know who is consuming the most caffeine? A study tracked the highest consumers around the country. See if your hometown made the list of “most caffeinated” cities.

Consider the caffeine in foods and beverages; use this chart to check the caffeine content in your diet (even decaf coffee contains some caffeine). Watch out for those energy drinks too; many contain tons of caffeine but it isn’t always mentioned on the label.

The Bottom Line
A cup of coffee or the occasional chocolate treat is safe for most people. These caffeinated foods also contain antioxidants and other healthful nutrients. There is some evidence to support that moderate coffee drinking may reduce your risk of developing dementia and Parkinson’s disease and can enhance mental and physical performance. Don’t use that as a reason to go caffeine crazy — downing multiple caffeine-containing drinks and foods everyday can be dangerous.

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