Is Caffeine good or bad for you?
What is caffeine?
Caffeine is a natural stimulant and is mainly found in coffee, tea, chocolates, soft drinks and cocoa plants.
It is known for stimulating the brain and central nervous system, helping stay alert, conscious and can stave off drowsiness or tiredness.
Caffeine is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug. However, it is legal and unregulated in almost all parts of the world.
It has no nutritional value on its own. Also, it is tasteless, so you might not know if it’s in your food either!
The effects of caffeine on your body
Yes, caffeine does so much more than just keeping you awake!!
- Caffeine acts as a central nervous system stimulant and thus keeps you awake and alert. But, too much of it can push you over the line from alert to jittery and anxious
- Digestive issues- Caffeine is known to cause heartburn, acid reflux or even an upset stomach in some people.
- Make you Pee- Not being stored in your body, caffeine remains unprocessed in the liver and is excreted through urine. So, you might as well urinate more often shortly after having caffeine.
- Bone issues- Caffeine is known to increase Calcium resorption from the bones. (Resorption is opposite of absorption), thus contributing to bone thinning and osteoporosis. Caffeine also can lead to muscle twitching if consumed in excess.
- Blood pressure changes- Caffeine can increase your blood pressure for a short time. Also, an overdose of caffeine can cause breathing difficulties or irregular heartbeats
- Reproductive issues- Too much caffeine can cause slowed foetal growth and increased risk of miscarriage.
- Affects menopause- Caffeine can worsen the hot flushes during menopause
How much caffeine is in different sources?
1. Coffee- A regular cup of coffee contains in between 60 to 75mg of caffeine.
2. Teas- A regular cup of black tea contains in between 20 to 50mg of caffeine, while green teas contain 8 to 25mg caffeine.
3. Matcha- A regular cup of matcha (Traditional Japanese tea) contains about 35mg of caffeine
4. Sodas- Cola contains about 15 to 20mg of added caffeine per cup. However, certain non-cola sodas contain caffeine as well.
5. Energy drinks- Energy drinks are often packed with a hefty dose of caffeine (75 to 125mg per serving).
Also, some energy boosting waters might include caffeine, so better be sure to read labels carefully too be aware what you are getting.
For instance- Red bull contains 80mg caffeine per 250ml can.
6. Chocolate- Cocoa beans also contain caffeine depending on the amount of processing done. Dark chocolate generally contains the most caffeine, while white chocolate contains none.
7. Energy boosting foods- Many instant foods, in trend, like oatmeal, energy bars, flavoured yogurt, mints do contain caffeine
8. Chewing gum- Chewing gum is not a natural source of caffeine, but some manufacturers might include caffeine in them
How do different sources of caffeine affect our body?
Yes, coffee drinkers almost brag about not being able to function before their morning cup.
Below is a handy dandy list comparing the caffeine amounts per cup in different sources, how long the energy high lasts and how hard the crash comes.
- Coffee- 60-75mg of caffeine. Lasts for 4-6 hours. Has a strong crash.
- Almond milk latte- 64mg of caffeine. Lasts for 4-6 hours. Medium crash
- Black tea- 47mg of caffeine. Lasts for 3-5 hours. Medium Crash
- Matcha- 30-70mg of caffeine. Lasts for 2 hours. No crash
What are the benefits of caffeine?
1. Improves energy levels
According to studies by A P Smith et al. Neuropsychobiology, 1993, caffeine after consumed, reaches the brain and blocks adenosine. Thus, improving memory, mood, vigilance, energy levels and reaction times
2. Contains essential nutrients
Coffee contains Vitamin B2, B3, B5, Manganese, potassium.
3. Best source of powerful antioxidants (Western diet)
4. Help you burn fat
Studies by P Koot et al. Ann Nutr Metabolism, 1995 show that caffeine can boost your metabolic rate and also increases fat burning
5. Caffeine might protect you from Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia (Studies by L .Maia, A. De Mendoca )
6. Lower your risk of type 2 diabetes
Studies by S. van Dieren,C.S.P.MUiterwaal et al show that people who drink coffee have 23-50% reduction in chances of getting type 2 diabetes.
7. Might lower the risk of Cancer
Studies show that people consuming caffeine regularly have up to 40% lower risk of liver cancer
8. Makes you more happy
In a Harvard study published in 2011, women who drank 4 or more cups of coffee had a 20% lower risk of becoming depressed.
Splitting the Beans: How much caffeine is too much?
Caffeine is an active ingredient in coffee and as I mentioned above, 1 cup of home cooked coffee contains in between 60-75 mg of caffeine.
Approximately, 400mg of caffeine per day is recommended according to FDA. It is equivalent to 4 cups of coffee and is considered safe for most healthy adults.
Disclaimer- You should keep in mind other sources of caffeine like tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, and chocolates.
Also, depending on factors like body weight, medications and individual sensitivity, “too much “can vary from person to person. For instance, pregnant or lactating mothers need to limit their caffeine consumption.
Does it lead to addiction?
If you find it difficult to function in the morning without coffee, you are not alone!!
Yes, caffeine may be physically addictive sometimes. Caffeine is a stimulant to the central nervous system and regular use of caffeine does not cause mild physical dependence.
But if you stop taking caffeine abruptly, you may have symptoms like headache, fatigue, irritability, depression, difficulty in concentrating. No doubt, caffeine withdrawal can make for a few bad days.
But caffeine does not cause the severity of withdrawal- too much or uncontrollable. Thus, experts do not consider caffeine dependence as an addiction.
What are the side effects of extra caffeine?
Ideally, it is not harmful to consume up to 400mg of caffeine per day. However, excess consumption can be detrimental. It might cause
- Headaches and dizziness
- Lower bone density and osteoporosis
- Irregular heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Gastric issues like GERD (Gastrointestinal reflux disease)
- Addiction too!!
How does Caffeine affect Anxiety?
According to Harvard Medical school, caffeine use can mimic symptoms of anxiety like Restlessness, nervousness, lack of sleep, Fast heart rate and gastrointestinal problems.
Anxiety is our body’s response to situations that are worrisome or threatening for us and caffeine can worsen symptoms in people already prone to anxiety
Coffee doesn’t cause, but triggers this response, thus making you overreact to such situations!!
Is Caffeine a good source of energy?
Coffee can make us feel more energised and we have got caffeine to thank for that!
In small amounts and as a part of a healthy diet, it can give us energy.
Research studies broadly document the fact that caffeine can increase physical and mental energy levels, even while recognizing that excess caffeine leads to jitteriness and sleepiness.
Caffeine free strategies to remain energised
It is not necessarily bad- A coffee run can be part of your self-care plan, or even a way to catch up with friends!!
But, if you are feeling tired or struggling to adjust to recent time change, below are few tips to help you get through the day without caffeine
- Get moving- Yes, physical activity can help you feel more alert and awake. You don’t have to necessarily do a full-blown workout to get yourself going! Even light walks or jogs can help you get the blood moving.
- Snack smart- opt for snacks rich in carbs, proteins and fats altogether as they provide you a more sustained source of energy, so you won’t experience a sugar crash
For instance, Boiled veggies and dip, sauteed corn and paneer with pepper, Boiled eggs, fruit yogurt, peanut butter bread!
- Breathe it in! - Aromatherapy can help you feel more energised. By mixing different oils together, you can create your own custom creations for energy to focus or sleep.
- Nap- If tiredness is your issue, take a nap during the day. Napping for 15 to 30 minutes has been shown to improve mood and alertness during the day!
What are the benefits of living caffeine free?
Don’t panic!! I won’t ask you to quit caffeine.
But there are also some benefits of cutting down on your fancy espresso drink habit along with saving a ton of money-
- Better sleep
- More absorption of nutrients like calcium, iron, B complex vitamins
- Reduced anxiety
- Balanced hormones like oestrogen and no further worsening of post-menopausal symptoms.
- Fewer headaches
- Lower blood pressure
- Healthy digestion (Reduced diarrhoea or GERD)
- Less wrinkles on your skin
What is the safest way to consume caffeine?
Here are a few tips to turn your caffeine from healthy to super healthy!
- Skip the sugar while making coffee
- No caffeine after 2 pm
- Spice up your coffee with a dash of cinnamon powder to lower your cholesterol, glucose and triglyceride levels
- Avoid drinking too much coffee or too many chocolates
- Choose a quality brand. However, organic is the best!
- A big no to artificial creamers or low-fat creamers (Highly processed)
A few myths and facts!
1. MYTH- Pregnant women or those who are trying to get pregnant should avoid caffeine
FACT- Moderate caffeine consumption is safe for pregnant women and her unborn child
2. MYTH- Caffeine adversely affects the health of children
FACT- Children generally have the same ability to process caffeine as adults.
Studies have proved that moderate amounts of caffeine have no detectable effects on hyperactivity or attention span of children
3. MYTH- Caffeine has a dehydrating effect
FACT- Although caffeine acts as a mild diuretic and makes you pee more, moderate consumption of caffeinated drinks does not actually cause dehydration.
4. MYTH- You should ingest caffeine right before your workout
FACT- You won’t get much of a boost if you consume an expresso immediately before workout. It takes up to 30 minutes to feel the effect.
5. MYTH- Coffee is the best source of caffeine
FACT- Absolutely false. Caffeine when taken in the form of capsules in its anhydrous or dehydrated form has a stronger effect than liquid coffee alone.
6. MYTH- Caffeine is bad for your heart
FACT- False- FOR HEALTHY ADULTS
If you are healthy, you can safely consume up to 400mg of caffeine per day
Caffeine isn’t as unhealthy as it was once believed.
Studies into the effects of caffeine have produced mixed results. The world's most popular pick me up; Coffee is probably fine and may even have some benefits.
But, if you have side effects like heartburn, nervousness or insomnia, consider cutting it back
It is important to note that the individual responses to caffeine ingestion may differ according to genetic variability and individuals should manage their own caffeine intake to suit their personal lifestyle.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sneha Jain, Dietician
Sneha is a Post graduate with specialization in Nutrition and Dietetics. She is a university topper and holds 5+ years of experience in Apollo hospitals, VLCC, slimsutra and first cry fit-kids .
She has successfully counselled clients all over India for weight loss, weight gain, diabetes, hypertension, PCOD, hypothyroid, Pregnancy and lactation and growth charts for children. She has her own diet consultation e-clinic (diet_diariez)
She believes in customized diets and eating local and seasonal foods. Her counselling not only involves diet planning, but also lifestyle modification and stress relief strategies.