Do We All Consume Way Too Much Caffeine?

Welcome to Week 3 of Caffeine Awareness Month!

If you’re late to the party, I’m working in collaboration with the Canadian Beverage Association to deliver hard hitting caffeine-fueled content all month long.

So far I’ve already written a brief history of humanity’s use and discovery of caffeine as well a piece on the differences (or lack thereof) between synthetic and natural caffeine.

In today’s article, I’m going to be looking at the hard facts surrounding caffeine use in modern society with a special emphasis on the question of whether or not we are “over-caffeinated” or doing our health a disservice by consuming too much caffeine.

How Much Is Too Much?

With the focus on adults, let’s start by formally identifying that  Health Canada considers  400mg per day a safe, moderate caffeine intake for adults.

This is the equivalent of 3x cups of brewed coffee ( 1 cup = 8oz or 237 ml).

The infographic above will help put what that means into greater context.

For further reference, 237 ml of brewed coffee could contain up to 150mg of caffeine whereas the same amount of energy drink contains closer to 80mg, green tea around 40mg and cola around 20mg.

Keep in mind, for any given product, you may be normally consuming more than 237 ml.

A tall at your favourite coffee shop for example, is ~350 ml or 1.5 cups and the average can of cola is the same value.

As I learned when tracking my caffeine intake last year, certain specialty drinks at popular coffee shops way have more caffeine than you think, so keep that in mind.

Note: For women who are pregnant, breast feeding or planning to become pregnant, Health Canada suggests 300mg daily as a safe, moderate intake level.

Do Canadians Consume Too Much Caffeine?

It’s quite fair for us to ask this question because Canadians do drink a lot of coffee and are some of the highest consumers in the world, according to 2019 data from the Coffee Association.

There are a number of factors, including genetic variation in caffeine metabolism, that determines how caffeine affects any given individual.

Those who are extra sensitive to caffeine intake may experience the negative consequences of caffeine intake (headaches, insomnia, irritability, anxiousness) at levels well below the Health Canada threshold, but the reverse is also true.

With that being said, the average intake of caffeine across the population is below the 400mg Health Canada recommendations and has remained relatively stable over the last decade plus.

Coffee and tea are top among nutritive caffeine sources, with cola, energy drinks and chocolate ( in descending order) contributing less.

According to Health Canada data from 2004, somewhere around 1 in 5 Canadians consume beyond 400mg per day, with men more likely to do so than women.

Getting The Most Out Of Your Caffeine Intake

Most people consume caffeine for the mental and physical boosts it offers and tend do so within Health Canada’s moderate intake recommendations, which means they are privy to the additional health benefits prolonged moderate caffeine offers including a potential boost to bowel movements.

It’s also important to acknowledge that the short-term benefits of caffeine intake generally abide by what is known as the Yerkes-Dodson Law which essentially says that stimulation ( ie: what caffeine offers) up to a critical point offers performance benefits.

Beyond that critical point, which varies from person to person, additional stimulation (ie: too much caffeine) will no longer offer benefits and potentially detract from your performance.

Identifying that sweet spot is up to you, but my hope is that today’s content helps.

Until next time,

Andy De Santis RD MPH