If you’re like most people, you probably consider caffeine to have few negative consequences beyond perhaps the occasional inability to sleep at night. We all like the occasional latte. In fact, some of us are almost religiously devoted to our daily coffee- or tea-drinking routine. But how much caffeine daily is a reasonable amount? Why might too much caffeine be bad for you?
In this post, you’ll learn all about caffeine—what it is, what it does to your body, the types of foods and drinks it’s in, what happens when you ingest too much of it, and how to cut back if you believe you’re consuming too much.
What exactly is caffeine?
Wikipedia explains that caffeine is a chemical molecule that’s classified as a stimulant because it stimulates the nervous system. Not surprisingly, it’s the most consumed psychoactive—or brain-effecting—drug in the world, with Huffington Post citing coffee as the most common caffeine delivery method. You can find it in many well-known foods and beverages. Kidshealth.org lists common sources as tea, coffee, chocolate, sodas, and energy drinks, but also notes that it’s added to many pain relievers and over-the-counter medications.
How does caffeine affect your body?
When you ingest caffeine, it temporarily makes you more alert and may even boost your mood. Caffeine Informer says that these effects tend to last from four to six hours, although your body absorbs almost 99 percent of the caffeine within 45 minutes after ingestion and does not store it.
If you find that caffeine affects you for a longer or shorter period of time compared to other people, that’s probably not your imagination; according to Caffeine Informer, humans can have hyper-n, normal, and hyposensitivity to caffeine. The speed at which your body processes caffeine can also differ from others based on factors like your age, any medical conditions you might have, and interactions with medications you may be taking.
How much caffeine is too much?
Huffington Post notes that your caffeine sensitivity level depends on how many adenosine receptors you have in your brain to bind with the caffeine molecules. The more those caffeine molecules bind to the adenosine receptors, the more jittery you may feel. For people with many receptors, even a single cup of coffee can lead to extreme jitters.
Mayo Clinic advises that you limit caffeine intake to no more than 400mg a day—that’s about four cups of regular strength brewed coffee, 10 cola drinks, or two energy shot drinks. Mayo Clinic warns you that the amount of caffeine in energy drinks varies widely, so be sure to look at the nutrition label to gauge how much caffeine you’re ingesting. If you’re experiencing migraine headaches, insomnia, nervousness, fast heartbeat, muscles tremors, or several other less-than-desirable effects, those are the warning signs of too much caffeine.
So you want to cut back on caffeine…
Perhaps you’re finding that your caffeine intake has increased to the point that you’re not getting a good night’s rest or you’re experiencing anxiety or a racing heart. Cutting back can be a bit challenging; Women’s Health Magazine warns that if you cut out caffeine completely, you may get a headache, experience fatigue, and maybe even some mood swings.
However, there is a possible silver lining; many of those lattes and Starbuck’s Frappuccinos contain a ton of calories, so you may find that you actually lose weight when you eliminate them from your diet. Then again, caffeine is a stimulant, so it may have served as an appetite suppressant that you’ve just taken eliminated. The bottom line? Quit caffeine for your health, not for weight loss or gain reasons.
Take it slowly with cutting back on caffeine
If cutting out all caffeine at once seems like a challenge you’re not ready to face, you don’t have to go cold turkey. Consider simply cutting back or gradually substituting decaffeinated coffee or drinks for your caffeinated versions. Cutting back this way will help you avoid or significantly reduce some of the worse side effects. As an old Ghanaian saying goes, “Little by little, the chicken drinks the water.” In other words, you’ll eventually get there, so unless you’re cutting out or cutting back on caffeine out of medical necessity, there’s probably no big hurry.
To really be kind to yourself, try making this recipe for Warm Fruit Salad with Chocolate Coconut Almonds. There’s only a tiny bit of caffeine in the chocolate-covered almonds, and it delivers 80 percent of your daily requirement for vitamin C plus a beneficial 4.7 grams of protein.