Caffeine: Is There a Limit?

Posted On Sunday, 19 April 2015
Caffeine: Is There a Limit?

First take a deep breath of relief: no one is recommending you should give up your morning cup of coffee. There is a general understanding that for a healthy adult, that is, one not on any medication or with chronic conditions, can safely consume from 300-400 mg of caffeine per day. That is the equivalent of four cups of regularly brewed coffee, or one Venti-sized Starbucks coffee.

Caffeine is considered a drug, because it stimulates the nervous system. It does not accumulate in the body, but you may feel its effects for up to six hours. It is wiser to think about “safety limits” in these terms: “A safe caffeine limit is the amount of caffeine a person can consume without experiencing any negative caffeine overdose symptoms.” (Caffeine Informer Website)

Some people can be more sensitive to caffeine than others; just based on their genetic makeup as well as body size. For example, just as a 200-lb fit adult male may be able to consume two beers without any side effects, a 110-lb petite female might be at her top limit with two beers. Therefore, the best way to judge if you have abused caffeine lately and could be over your limit is to look at the negative caffeine overdose symptoms and see if any of them are similar to things you have been experiencing lately.

Consuming too much caffeine routinely can lead to chronic insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, irritability, stomach issues, muscle tremors, fast heartbeats and even increased blood pressure. These can easily be mistaken for other conditions and even result in expensive medical exams trying to find the cause of your health issues. It is important to pay attention to your limits with caffeine and wean yourself gradually should you suspect you may be overdosing.

When cutting back on caffeine, it is important to do so slowly. You may experience headaches and irritability if decreasing your caffeine intake too fast and too drastically. You will also need to pay close attention to all sources of caffeine in your diet. Coffee, sodas and teas are easy to identify. But, there are other sources of caffeine as well. Chocolate only has a small amount of caffeine but can be cumulative if, for example, you consume a chocolate-flavored cereal in the morning, a chocolate smoothie in the afternoon and finish the day with a few squares of dark chocolate.

Caffeine is also present in large amounts in energy drinks. Those often contain much more caffeine than one cup of coffee. The source of the caffeine may be from Guarana or açai berries, which are South American berries with a very potent amount of caffeine. Just a few grams of the berries will add up to 600 mg of caffeine in one energy drink. Even pain killers and over-the-counter headache medicine can contain caffeine, therefore read labels and track your consumption.

You can decrease your caffeine by switching from coffee to tea, for example. Green tea has lower amounts of caffeine but will still provide you that morning jolt you need. Most people notice improved sleeping patterns right away when they back off caffeine a bit. It’s worth a try, especially if you've been fighting insomnia for a while.

Kids and teenagers are at an increased risk for overdosing due to their smaller body size. Their peak limits are much lower, and they are much more susceptible to the side effects. Children should avoid it all together, and teenagers are recommended to be cautious and keep it under 100 mg daily. It is difficult to distinguish the overdose symptoms in teens, so it’s best to be cautious and prevent overdose in the first plane than rely on judging their limits by the side effects.

The good news is that all recent research shows that drinking coffee and having a moderate amount of caffeine daily causes no harm and doesn’t impact one’s health. Just as long as you’re not overdoing it and feeling some negative side effects, carry on and enjoy your “Cup of Joe”!

Eat well, stay well,

Carolina Lima Jantac, MS, RD, LD

Carolina Lima Jantac, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition Expert, and Social Media Manager is excited to be a part of an important program for mothers, dads, and kids who need so much guidance. As a Registered Dietitian, she has spent most of her career working in pediatric and adult hospitals as well as long term care centers.

She has learned and applied the power of food and choices we make regarding nutrition as the number one impact on health, longevity and quality of life. Her research at University of Florida on Vitamin B6 was published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism (2007). Carolina brings international flare as she has a dual citizenship (Brazilian and US). She is a brilliant cook.

"I am happily married and have been blessed with two healthy children, Isabela and Daniel. They are great kids and my personal 'experiment' as I introduce them to new foods and educate them on healthy eating, raising them to be good examples of good nutritional choices making a difference for life!"

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