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If the names macchiato, long black, and ristretto get you excited, it’s a safe bet that caffeine is a part of your everyday life. As boutique cafés and chain coffeehouses crop up in all corners of the world, it seems that the average daily dose of coffee is rising sharply—but when it comes to a healthy intake of caffeine, is this upwards move the right trend?
As observed by the International Coffee Organization (ICO), the global demand for coffee increased by almost 25 percent1 between 2017 and 2020, an eye-opening fact that is followed by queries of caffeine consumption, and differing reports resulting in contradictory health recommendations. On one hand, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)—a group of specialists backed by the World Health Organization (WHO)—did not encounter a strong enough correlation between high coffee intake and risk of cancer2. Yet conversely, excessive consumption was still linked to short-term symptoms such as heart palpitations, insomnia, and dizziness3.
Bupa dietician and health coach Luke Powles states that “in moderation, coffee should not do you any harm.” He breaks down the purpose of caffeine, explaining how it stimulates and “acts on the central nervous system, increasing the heart rate.” It explains the surge of energy you feel after drinking your cuppa joe, giving you a boost in maintaining alertness. Still, he warns addictive users that too much coffee can cause problems in sleeping habits and dehydration, headaches, light-headedness, stomach problems, and even mood swings. Another potentially concerning ingredient that often sneaks its way into coffee is sugar, posing additional risks to your health.
As a rule of thumb, the European Food Safety Authority (ESFA) proposed a total consumption cap on caffeine at 400 milligrammes per day for adults, with no serving exceeding 200 milligrammes. Backed by their Scientific Opinion on the Safety of Caffeine, which was published in 20154, any higher would be considered a safety concern.
Another warning is to also consider other sources of caffeine aside from coffee, including soft drinks, energy drinks, tea, and chocolate. To better estimate if you have reached your daily quota, it is helpful to contrast and compare the different levels in classic caffeinated items. One mug of instant coffee carries around 100 milligrammes of caffeine, while the same serving’s worth of filtered coffee has a caffeine count of about 140 milligrammes. Energy drinks are more of a wildcard, fluctuating between 80 milligrammes to 160 milligrammes of caffeine per 250-millilitre sized can, with smaller concentrated shots in 60-millilitre bottles potentially containing the same range5.
Several groups with higher chances of developing health problems should pay greater attention to their intake levels. For example, the United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS) advises pregnant women to restrict their everyday amount of caffeine to 200 milligrammes6, because a higher intake may cause serious damage that results in miscarriages or low birth weight rates, which can lead to the baby developing health problems in later life.
Aside from its diversity in flavour and fragrance, there are also physiological pleasures to drinking coffee. In fact, tossing back a single cup about 20 to 30 minutes before a workout session can increase your exercise stamina by up to 30 percent7! Similarly, a customary 75-milligramme serving of caffeine in its various forms can help improve attention and alertness, as proposed by the European Food Safety Authority (ESFA)8.
All that stimulation may be great for sluggish mornings, but a cup close to bedtime can damage your sleep cycle and cause restless nights. Although everybody may show varying levels of caffeine tolerance, Powles generally recommends that you avoid ingesting caffeinated drinks or food “at least six hours before bedtime.”
Forming a consistent pattern of drinking caffeine can cause your body to become dependent, gradually raising the notch, forcing you to drink more just to reach the same level of stimulation. In essence, forming habits of monitoring the amount and timeframe of your caffeine consumption is key.
Taking steps to maintain a healthy caffeine intake does not mean giving up the delicious drinks entirely. You may even stand to gain some new favourites by testing out low-caffeine switches! If you are interested to try out new possibilities, Powles suggests hot drinks like black tea and green tea, in addition to caffeine-free choices like rooibos, herbal tea, and dandelion coffee. As an overview, Bupa has provided this handy chart designed by The Blueroom to keep as a reference when you feel a hankering for something to sip on.
1. Time, last accessed in February 2017
2. International Agency for Research on Cancer, WHO, last accessed in February 2017
3. Caffeine Informer, last accessed in February 2017
4. Coffee and Health, last accessed in January 2017
5. Food Standards Agency, last accessed in February 2017
6. NHS, last accessed in February 2017
7. Ruxton, C.H.S. The impact of caffeine on mood, cognitive function, performance and hydration: a review of benefits and risks, British Nutrition Foundation Nutrition Bulletin, Volume 33, 2008
8. EFSA NDA Panel (EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies), 2014. Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of a health claim related to caffeine and increased alertness pursuant to Article 13(5) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. EFSA Journal 2014;12(2):3574, 16 pp. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2014.3574
The Blueroom, Bupa Australia, last accessed in February 2017