Caffeine: How Much is Too Much?
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Published on March 06, 2017

several cups of coffee

Caffeine: How Much is Too Much?

Bitter but beneficial, especially when you’re tired. That’s a great way to summarize caffeine, which may be the world’s most widely used drug.

Coffee, tea and energy drinks – along with soda pop – all offer this booster to our breakfasts, lunches and in some cases, working nights, too. Knowing how much is too much is important. So how much caffeine is in the one you reach for at the c-store or order at the coffee shop?

Cheryl Rude, Avera Clinical Dietitian Coordinator at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center, encourages all things in moderation, including caffeine, no matter where you get it from.

She notes that the highest amount recommended for adults is 400 mg per day, and most Americans do not exceed this amount. However, some people do, while others might be more sensitive to its effects.

"No matter how you get it – whether from a latte or a can of pop – it adds up,” Rude said. “Too much can cause jitters, trouble getting to sleep or remaining asleep and headaches. These can all be signs that you need to cut back and include more healthful options, such as water.”

Rude added that extremely large amounts can cause abnormal heart rhythms or lead to a rapid heartbeat.

"Children and adolescents should limit their consumption of caffeine even more than adults and opt for beverages such as water or milk, so they can avoid issues with normal physical development,” she said. “Young adults should be reminded that our bodies continue to develop until approximately age 26, so too much caffeine can again be an issue.”

Keeping an eye on how much you ingest is never a bad idea, Rude said. She also mentioned the common misconception on serving sizes.

“You can look at a chart like the one with this story and think that your drink of choice isn’t too bad, but most coffee shops serve larger-than-8 ounce sized drinks, and it can add up fast,” she said. “The same rule applies for soda. If you drink a 20-ounce bottle of a higher-caffeine choice, you could be blasting past a modest amount of this stimulant.”

Caffeine quantities in common beverages

The following chart spells out the amounts in many common drinks. Common in many foods and drinks, caffeine is a drug, and it’s usually measured in milligrams. Most professionals encourage adults to consume no more than 500 milligrams a day; for young kids, no caffeine is recommended and for teens, 100 milligrams a day is a good limit.

With those ideas in mind, here’s a look at the levels of caffeine in some common drinks:

Drink Ounces Caffeine (milligrams)
Brewed coffee 8 100-200
Espresso 1 47-75
Latte 8 65-175
Black tea 8 14-70
Green tea 8 24-45
Iced tea 8 5-40
Soda 12 0-55*
Energy drink 8 70-207**

* The brand of soda makes a big difference in terms of caffeine content. Many brands of cola have higher amounts of caffeine; some sodas have none.

** The same rules apply for energy drinks, with the high-end brands packing 200-207 milligrams of caffeine into small two-fluid ounce servings. Other brands of energy drinks can offer 75-80 milligrams of caffeine in each 8 ounce serving.

In all cases, make sure to read the label if you’re trying to gauge caffeine content in your diet.

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