The alarm goes off, you pound the snooze button four times only to be forced out of bed by your dog that wants breakfast. Ever had one of those mornings? Once you make it to the coffee pot you whiff the intoxicating aroma, sip the energizing concoction and before you know it you’re not only instantly becoming energized and productive but you’re actually smiling. Oh, the powers of caffeine. How could this magical substance in coffee, tea and soda be getting such a bad rap when it’s a miracle to so many people? Caffeine containing foods and drinks could actually be beneficial for your health as long as they are consumed in moderation.Naturally found in coffee, tea and chocolate and added to some beverages, caffeine is a stimulant that boosts fat burning, improves mood, increases alertness and makes exercise feel easier. Of course, too much of a good thing can cause problems. Excessive caffeine can increase heart rate, blood pressure and irritability as well as disturb sleep. These effects are typically seen at levels above 400 milligrams (mg) per day or the equivalent of three or four cups of coffee. The myth that caffeine causes dehydration does not hold much ground, unless you are drinking more than 12 cups of tea or 6 cups of coffee each day. Caffeine is safe in moderation and the popular belief that it is addictive is false. Coffee, energy drinks and tea have the highest levels, followed by sodas and dark chocolate. The American Dietetic Association recommends that adults consume no more than 200 to 300 mg of caffeine per day and pregnant women less than 200 mg/day. Children should limit caffeine as much as possible, with 85 mg being the limit for 10 - 12 year olds. Coffee and chocolate not only provide immediate enjoyable benefits from the caffeine, but also have a number of other substances that can improve your health. Tea and dark chocolate supply polyphenols that can improve heart health and tea may also decrease mental decline as you age. Coffee boasts compounds that make your heart healthier, and reduce the risk of some cancers. Sodas and energy drinks may provide an energy jolt thanks to caffeine, but they also contain added sugars and extra calories. It’s best to drink these less often or use the sugar-free versions to avoid weight gain. So the next time you need an afternoon pick-me-up or a little extra something to wake you up in the morning, remember the health benefits a cup of coffee or tea provide and enjoy - in moderation of course!
Lauren Gesslein a dietetic intern and graduate student in nutrition at Texas Woman’s University who completed a community nutrition rotation with Neva Cochran in July.