During March, which is both National Nutrition Month and Caffeine Awareness Month, the National Consumers League (NCL) is calling on consumers to turn their attention to the world’s favorite pick-me-up: caffeine. Coincidentally—for the first time in its 35-year history—the Scientific Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, released last month for public comment, addresses caffeine safety and consumption.
“Whether it’s a strong cup of morning Joe, a green tea with sushi, a chocolate bar at the movies, or an energy drink to get through the work day, the fact is that 85% of the U.S. population consumes caffeine every single day,” said Sally Greenberg, NCL’s executive director. “And while we know where to find it, and consume a lot of it, the majority of Americans are not ‘caffeine literate.’”
In the interest of informing American consumers and promoting moderation, NCL has released a guide that reveals 10 facts you likely didn’t know about caffeine.
- The earliest rumored consumption of caffeine was by a Chinese emperor in 3,000 BC who is said to have accidentally discovered that when certain leaves fell into boiling water, a fragrant and restorative drink resulted. We commonly know this drink as tea.
- Caffeine is found in the seeds and leaves of more than 60 plants around the world. Coffee beans, tea leaves, cocoa beans, kola nuts, guarana plants, and yerba mate are just a few that contain caffeine.
- Regardless of whether caffeine is naturally occurring (coffee or tea), or in its synthetic form (cola or energy drink), the chemical structure is identical, and its effect on the human body is the same.
- Birds, dogs, and cats cannot metabolize caffeine – so don’t feed your pets chocolate (or give them coffee)!
- The darker the coffee roast, the less caffeine in the coffee bean. Unroasted, green coffee beans have a higher concentration of caffeine. For teas, it’s the opposite: the darker the tea, the higher the caffeine.
- Around 400mg of caffeine per day is commonly cited as a safe intake level for healthy adults. That’s about 6-7 cups of black tea, 4-5 cups of home brew coffee, 2-3 Starbucks Grande Lattes, 8 cans of Diet Coke, or 5 cans of Red Bull. A typical serving or portion of caffeine is usually an 8 fl oz cup of home brewed coffee, a 20 fl oz diet cola, a 1.5 fl oz espresso shot and an 8.4 fl oz energy drink, all of which are about equal with a range of approximately 70-90mg of caffeine.
- Aside from the ‘pick-me-up’ that is a well-known effect of caffeine, there is evidence that caffeine has some positive effects against some diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. But too much caffeine can result in side effects like nervousness, anxiety, nausea, sleeplessness, and jitteriness.
- Eighty five percent of the US population consumes caffeine daily. How is it split? 64 percent from coffee, 17 percent from tea, 17 percent from sodas, and 2 percent from energy drinks.
- Caffeine takes 15-45 minutes to take effect. The average person will eliminate half of the original amount consumed between 4-6 hours.
- Pregnant women should avoid caffeine, and it is not recommended for children.
To maximize transparency for consumers, NCL believes that all products containing caffeine should declare the total amount of caffeine per serving—and per container—on their product labels or packaging.
“The FDA should provide the public with clear guidance on safe upper limits of caffeine intake for the general population of healthy adults and for other relevant age and gender groups, including pregnant women and young children,” said Greenberg. “If the FDA is still reviewing the science, it can at least provide interim advice, as Health Canada has done, in order for consumers to have some guidance to go on in the meantime.”
“The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans—which will be current for the five years following publication—should address caffeine holistically instead of implying, as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, that caffeine is only a potential concern when it is consumed via energy drinks or ‘high dose caffeine products,’” said Greenberg. “To deliver consumers with useable guidance, and common sense educational tools, the Dietary Guidelines should educate the public about the primary food and beverage sources of caffeine, and the amount of caffeine they contain.”