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Ask NEPA: The Truth About Caffeine

by Jocelin Lamprey, NEPA

In our newest series, the Nutrition Education and Promotion Association chapter at SU breaks down some common health questions with their expert advice.

(Courtesy of thecaffeinejunkies.com)

What is Caffeine?

We all know that caffeine is the component to coffee that everyone wants to be able have in order to stay up all night to finish their homework. But what exactly is caffeine in the first place? In caffeine’s purest form, it is a white crystalline solid. It is made up of carbon atoms, nitrogen atoms, oxygen atoms, and hydrogen atoms. The specific number and alignment of these atoms allow it to be and do exactly what every wants it to do, keep them awake. Caffeine is a stimulant drug and also a mild diuretic.

Interestingly enough, caffeine is the only drug that is naturally found or added in foods. Caffeine can be found in food such as coffee, chocolate, tea, soda, and energy drinks. Coffee contains the greatest amount of caffeine out of all these in fact. One cup of generic blend coffee has about 133 mg of caffeine. A Hershey’s chocolate bar has 9 mg of caffeine. Tea contains about 50 mg. Soda has about 70 mg per 8oz. A Red Bull contains 80 mg of caffeine in one cup.

So what does all this mean? Well, this is just a good start to keep track of how much caffeine you are consuming. It is healthy to have up to 300 mg a day of caffeine—that’s about three cups of coffee a day. This amount will allow you to be more alert without bad affects to your health.  According the American Dietetic Association, if you are pregnant, however, it is important to decrease your intake of caffeine. This is because there are mixed studies on the effects caffeine has on the child while it is in the womb and also it can contribute to nausea and heartburn.

If a person were to consistently consume more than 300 mg of caffeine per day, there are hazardous effects on the body. A person who consumes too much caffeine could experience jitters in their muscles, anxiety, increased heart rate, difficulty sleeping, and headaches. If you drink too much caffeine and want to cut down on the amount, it is important to do it slowly and not all at once. If you normally drink coffee and you just stop all of a sudden, you will experience withdrawal symptoms. Some of the symptoms include:  restlessness, difficulty concentrating, hot/cold spells, muscle stiffness, and irritability. The best way to cut back on caffeine intake and not experience withdrawal symptoms would be to do it slowly. Be aware of how much caffeine you are putting in your body. It is a drug—and moderation is the key.

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