Nectar of the Goddesses? Or No? The Scoop on Caffeine

Guest post by Bonnie Brost, licensed and registered dietitian at Essentia Health

A morning dose of coffee or tea is often a must to get us going before the light of day. Many people look forward to that energy jolt from caffeine. So is caffeine good? Bad?

The Scoop on Caffeine

Today more than 80 percent of the world’s population consumes caffeine in some form and it’s become the most widely consumed central nervous system stimulant. Caffeine is a legal drug.

Caffeine has been part of the human diet for centuries, primarily through coffee, tea and, more recently, sodas. It’s also found in cocoa beans, chocolate, and some snack foods. Many craft coffee and tea beverages, as well as energy drinks, contain more caffeine than you may have considered.

Caffeine can have positive and negative effects. There are safe levels of consumption and toxic levels. As we head into the shorter days of the year, educating yourself and your family about the risks and benefits of this legal stimulant can be helpful.

The Scoop on Caffeine-The Good

Caffeine has several well-documented positive effects:

  • Alertness/wakefulness – This is achieved by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain. Adenosine signals the brain that it’s time for the body to slow down and sleep.
  • Pain relief – Caffeine reduces inflammation and helps to block the perception of pain in the brain.
  • Endurance – Caffeine is believed to influence the way muscles utilize glycogen allowing them to function longer before fatigue sets in.
  • Motivation/productivity – Caffeine causes dopamine levels to increase, which produces a positive state of mind.

The Scoop on Caffeine-The Bad

Caffeine also has negative effects which vary by dose and a person’s tolerance and sensitivity level:

  • Insomnia – Consuming caffeine too late in the day can interfere with getting to sleep and staying asleep.
  • Jitters – In some people, caffeine causes moderate to severe shaking of the hands.
  • Addiction – Caffeine is moderately addictive and some may have trouble consuming in moderation.
  • Withdrawal headaches – Habitual caffeine users must consume close to the same amount of the drug each day or a withdrawal headache could result.
  • Increased blood pressure – Caffeine metabolism causes stress hormones to be released, which elevates a person’s blood pressure for a short period of time.
  • Risk of overdose – Doses greater than 400 milligrams per day can elicit mild to severe caffeine overdose symptoms in adults. This can occur with much smaller doses in children or those who are more sensitive to caffeine.
  • Anxiety – Caffeine can increase anxiety especially in those diagnosed with anxiety or stress disorders.
  • Exacerbates heart conditions – Since caffeine can increases heart rate, it can be dangerous for those with underlying heart conditions. However, it does not cause heart abnormalities. It is good to let your health provider know how much coffee, tea or other caffeinated products you consume if taking heart medications.

Health authorities offer guidelines on consuming caffeine. Some people may be more sensitive or have a lower tolerance. Healthy adults can consume 400 milligrams each day. Teens, ages 13-18, should have 100 milligrams or less. Teens have been shown to be the fastest growing population of caffeine users, with some 83 percent regularly consuming caffeinated beverages. Children age 12 and under should have very limited caffeine.  A 2014 study in the journal Pediatrics found many American children consume more than we realize, mostly from soda.

The Scoop on Caffeine-What You Should Be Aware of

The American Psychiatric Association recognizes caffeine intoxication as a clinical syndrome.  According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, some people can experience caffeine intoxication symptoms, including restlessness, nervousness, excitement, insomnia, flushed face, and gastrointestinal complaints after ingesting as little as 100 milligrams per day. At daily levels of 1,000 milligrams, symptoms may include muscle twitching, rapid heartbeats, abnormal electrical activity in the heart and psychomotor agitation.

Caffeine levels are not required on product labels, so it may not be easy to determine how much caffeine is in a product. Caffeine amounts also vary in coffee and tea depending on the type of bean or tea leaf, the brewing method and time and strength of the brew. It’s important to watch your serving size since we often consume more than the size listed. The Food and Drug Administration has limited caffeine in soft drinks to not more than 71 milligrams in 12 ounces.

Caffeine is available in pill form and now in a concentrated powder, which if not taken in a proper dose can quickly be toxic. Caffeine pills such as No-Doz are limited to 200 milligrams per capsule.

Here’s a chart on caffeine in popular products:


Item Portion Typical amount in milligrams (mg) Range

(due to brewing method or plant variety)

Generic brews
Caffeinated home brewed coffee drip method 8 ounces 100 75-165
Decaffeinated home brewed 8 ounces 3 2-10
Tea – black 8 ounces 47 15-70
Tea – green 8 ounces 25 24-45
Tea – white 8 ounces 15 15
Tea – herbal 8 ounces 0   0
Tea – iced 8 ounces 25 10 – 50
Mountain Dew 12 ounces 54
Colas 12 ounces 40 30-69
Barq’s Root Beer 12 ounces 22   0-25
7up, Sprite, ginger ale 12 ounces 0
Brand coffee products
Starbucks Blonde Roast 16 ounces 360
Starbucks Brewed Decaf 16 ounces 25
Starbucks Caffe Latte 16 ounces 150
Starbucks Cappuccino 16 ounces 150
Starbucks Espresso Solo 75
Starbucks White Chocolate Mocha 16 ounces 150
Starbucks Hot Chocolate 16 ounces 25
Caribou Brewed Coffee 16 ounces 305
Caribou Decaf Coffee 16 ounces 5
Caribou Caffe Latte 16 ounces 180
Caribou Campfire Mocha 16 ounces 195
Caribou Hot chocolate 16 ounces 15
Caribou Depth Charge = coffee + espresso 20 ounces 445
Energy drinks
Bang Energy 16 ounces 357
5 hour Energy 2 ounces 200
Monster Energy 16 ounces 160
Full Throttle 16 ounces 160
Red Bull 16 ounces 160
Mountain Dew Kick Start 16 ounces 90
Crystal Light Energy 1 packet 60
Ocean Spray Cran-Energy 16 ounces 110
Caffeinated snacks and other products
Jelly Bean Extreme Sport Beans 1 ounce 50
Run Gum 1 piece 50
GU Energy Gel some flavors 1 packet 40
Awake Energy Granola 1 bar 50
Bang Caffeinated Ice Cream ½ cup 125
Crackheads Espresso Bean Candies 1 package 28 pieces 200
NoDoz or Vivarin 1 tablet 200

Bonnie Brost is a licensed and registered dietitian at Essentia Health. Essentia Health is guided by the values of quality, hospitality, respect, justice, stewardship, and teamwork. From emergency care to convenient care, family care to speciality practice, Essentia Health delivers on its promise to be “Here With You” in the Brainerd Lakes Area.  Learn more at


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