By Adam Sachs, Registered Dietitian
Caffeine intake is a part of many people’s daily routine, but what is caffeine exactly and how does it have an impact on our body and our health? Now that the days are getting shorter, more and more people are reaching for their morning fix in one form or another. Caffeine is a mild stimulant found in many types of plants such as coffee, tea, and cocoa. It can also be synthesized and used as a food additive. Caffeine is known for its ability to reduce tiredness and increase focus, and when consumed from natural sources has many health benefits. On the other hand, consuming caffeine from certain sources and in high quantities can have some unwanted side effects.
How does it work?
Caffeine is a chemical compound absorbed quickly into the blood stream if consumed in a food or beverage. As it gets broken down, it splits into components that react with other brain chemicals. The most noticeable action caffeine performs in the body is blocking certain neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) that make us feel tired. This is why caffeine often makes us feel more alert and can help you wake up in the morning. This also the same process that can keep us awake at night if we have a source of caffeine too close to bedtime.
Caffeine has been shown to increase focus and even improve brain function to a degree. These factors obviously have a big impact on our mood and productivity throughout the day. Another important factor to consider is source of your caffeine. Tea leaves, coffee beans, and cocoa beans are all natural sources of caffeine and all have their own set of health benefits. All three contain several types of antioxidants which help to reduce inflammation and can even fight off cancer cells. Caffeine used as a food additive comes without all of the antioxidants, and is usually combined with added sugars and other preservatives (think energy drinks like red bull, monster, etc.)
Consumption and recommendations
If you choose to consume caffeinated products, the FDA recommends a moderate amount daily. This is defined as 300-400 milligrams per day. This is the equivalent of about 3-4 8oz cups of coffee, 4-6 cups of tea, or 1-2 energy drinks per day. The amount of caffeine must be labeled on a packaged product, so you are able to keep track of your consumption on a day to day basis. There have been very few reports of caffeine related overdoses, and they usually are linked to caffeine pill or energy drink overconsumption. It is however very possible to go throughout caffeine withdrawal. This can happen from consuming more than the FDA recommendations and usually presents with excessive grogginess and chronic headaches.
Caffeine can be a very beneficial and healthy addition to your daily diet. Caffeine from natural sources is highly recommended, and consuming without added sugars or creamer is something to consider. Although it is rare, it is possible to consume too much caffeine but following the FDA standards is a great way to prevent this. Like many aspects of health and nutrition, moderation and more naturals sources are key concepts for caffeine consumption.