Are there more benefits to caffeine than risks?

Article by Lindsay Martin, MS, RDN, LDN

There really isn’t anything like that warm first sip of coffee in the morning or even afternoon. Or even just having some caffeine to give us that jolt we need to give us that motivation for our workout, to get out of the sleepy daze in the morning. It keeps us productive when we’re feeling the slump in our day and it helps to give us that extra focused energy to keep us producing in our daily routine. 

The number one choice of caffeine for Americans is coffee. And I’m happy to report there are some health benefits as well. Studies show (from Radiological Society of North America) caffeine can reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease, improve your mental functioning, short-term memory and speed up your reaction times. It also can boost your metabolism, which most of us can use a little boost right about now, right? 

Nutritionally speaking, coffee has some potassium, niacin, and magnesium. It can help contribute to your hydration for the day! Yes, you read that right–caffeine beverages can count towards your hydration for the day. It also can provide some good antioxidants and has some beneficial effects such as anti-inflammation. Making your coffee or tea with fat-free or low-fat milk is one way to increase your daily calcium and vitamin D intake. If your diet does not include dairy, a soy option is a calcium-rich alternative. Just be mindful of adding sweetener since coffee drinks can be a source of added sugars which can lead to weight gain. 

It’s nice to know there are some positives to drinking caffeine, right? We usually only hear the negatives like “it is addictive”, and “don’t want to drink too much because there can be negative side effects like withdrawal”. Although those are real effects from caffeine, let’s also keep it within normal limits. 

So, how much caffeine is too much? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says 3-5, 8-ounce cups of coffee provide about 400 milligrams of caffeine, which is the most that is recommended per day for healthy adults says the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Because caffeine is a stimulant, certain groups, such as those with hypertension and the elderly, may be at a higher risk for negative side effects of caffeine and so should consider limiting their intake. Pregnant and breastfeeding women will also want to limit caffeine and should discuss their intake with their health care provider. It is not recommended for children either.

I get asked all the time, “what about the energy drinks or pre-workout supplements? Are those any better? “ It sometimes feels like energy drinks get a bad rap while coffee gets all the glory, right? The truth is: caffeine is caffeine! It doesn’t really matter where you get your caffeine from, it’s not an essential nutrient. 

If we’re comparing apples to apples: 1 packet of 4D mixed in 16 ounces of water contains 150 mg of caffeine while an 8 ounces coffee averages around 100mg. Since the FDA does give recommendations of up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day, either choice would work. Choose drinks that have sugar free options like 4D which has 0 calories and 0 grams of sugar. Also, pay attention to how caffeine makes you feel. People’s sensitivity to caffeine varies so if you are bothered by headaches, restlessness, or anxiety or irritability, pregnant or breastfeeding you may want to reevaluate your caffeine intake accordingly. And, if your reason is to give you a boost of energy, don’t forget the role of good nutrition and adequate sleep in our daily energy levels. 

Like everything else in life, moderation is key. Too much of a good thing can be just as counterproductive just like too much of an unhealthy thing. On a positive note, that caffeine we love so much, counts towards our daily hydration, helps speed up our metabolism and it helps with memory. I’d say those are some amazing benefits. Cheers!

Sources/ resources—

Radiological Society of North American- Caffeine Boosts Short-Term Memory (webmd.com)

Caffeine: How much is too much? – Mayo Clinic

Benefits of Coffee (eatright.org)

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