Whether it’s from your daily cup of coffee, your sneaky little chocolate treat or that energy drink for a much needed pick me up, we all consume a substance called caffeine. But what is caffeine? Is it good or bad for us? My blog today explores the topic of caffeine.
What is caffeine?
Caffeine is a natural stimulant which can be found in teas, coffees and cacao plants. It’s function is to make us feel more awake and alert by stimulating the brain and central nervous system.
Once consumed, caffeine is absorbed from the gut into the bloodstream where it is broken down into compounds in the liver. These compounds block the effects of a neurotransmitter called adenosine (this neurotransmitter relaxes the brain and makes you feel tired). Caffeine also increases blood adrenaline levels and the activity of other neurotransmitters called dopamine and norepinephrine. This causes you to feel more awake, alert and focussed.
Where can you find caffeine?
Caffeine is found naturally in sources such as black tea, green tea, coffee and chocolate. It is also added to energy drinks and certain medications such as cold and flu medications.
What are the benefits of caffeine?
Here are some of the reported benefits of caffeine:
- According to an Australian study, consuming caffeine can give you a mental boost for 45 minutes and can enhance your memories for up to 24 hours
- Harvard researches have said that drinking 4-5 cups of coffee a day could cut the risk of Parkinson’s disease in half
- Caffeine is often used by athletes as a pre-workout supplement. Several studies have shown that taking caffeine before a workout can increase short-term endurance and performance, improve muscular endurance and also improve long-term endurance
- A study in 2014 showed that drinking up to 3 cups of coffee a day may reduce the risk of liver cancer by up to 50%
Are there any negatives?
The Mayo Clinic has stated that consuming more than 500-600mg of caffeine may lead to:
- An upset stomach
- A fast heartbeat
- Muscle tremors
It has also been reported that consuming more than 300mg of caffeine during pregnancy may increase the risk of low birth weight babies.
Caffeine can also be addictive. Many people report suffering withdrawal symptoms (such as headaches and fatigue) trying to cut it out.
How much should I drink?
General guidelines state that adults should consume no more than 400mg of caffeine daily while pregnant women should consume no more than 300mg.
These are the general amounts of caffeine found in many common foods and drinks:
- Black coffee (250ml)=80-175mg
- Black tea (250ml)=43-50mg
- Green tea (250ml)=25-45mg
- Herbal tea (250ml)=0mg
- Energy drinks (250ml)=80-97mg
- Fizzy drinks (355ml)=25-50mg
- Dark chocolate (60-85 percent cocoa solids) per ounce=23mg
- Cocoa powder per tablespoon=12mg
- Milk chocolate per ounce=4mg
- White chocolate per ounce=0mg
If you are looking to reduce your caffeine intake and the effects:
- Switch to green and herbal teas
- Don’t drink caffeinated drinks too close to bedtime. Make sure you have no black teas or coffees for a few hours before going to sleep to avoid sleepless nights
- While dark chocolate has a higher caffeine content than milk or white chocolate, dark chocolate has a lower sugar content and contain beneficial phytonutrients so is the better choice to opt for
- The longer you leave a teabag in the water to brew, the more caffeine you’ll get in your cuppa. If you want less caffeine, don’t leave it to brew for so long
Long story short, if you want to have caffeine, that’s fine. Just ensure you go for teas and coffees rather than energy drinks, don’t exceed the recommended amount and enjoy it earlier in the day