Am I Drinking Too Much Caffeine?

By Amy Gorin, MS, RDN

I didn’t start drinking coffee till I was an adult — and when I did, I was hooked. It wasn’t so much the caffeine that I was after as much as the taste. I really love black coffee (and cappuccinos and lattes, too). In fact, it’s morning as I write this, and I’m sipping an espresso.

How Much Caffeine Is Safe Per Day?

Because of my coffee love, I’m a fan of finding out as much as possible about how much caffeine is safe to consume. A new study out in Food and Chemical Toxicology summarized the results of research on potential adverse effects of caffeine on behavior, cardiovascular disease, bone status, reproduction, and development in healthy adults. The findings: The same amount of caffeine recommended in the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a cap of 400 mg of caffeine daily, is in fact the safe amount for most healthy adults, although more research is needed on unhealthy and sensitive populations.

This comes out to roughly;

  • Three to five cups of coffee daily
  • One Keurig K-cup coffee
  • One 12-ounce cola
  • 1.5 ounces of dark chocolate
  • 12-ounce energy drink.

The study also recommended that healthy pregnant women take in no more than 300 mg of caffeine daily. While these amounts are not connected with adverse health effects, too much caffeine could have consequences.

How Many Drinks Should You Have?

What does this mean for you? Consider all sources of caffeine throughout the day, and cap coffee intake at three to five 8-ounce cups of coffee daily, depending on how you get your caffeine and what other caffeinated foods and drinks you’re consuming.

And FYI: An instant cup of coffee has about 60 mg of caffeine, whereas a regular K-cup coffee has 120 mg of caffeine, and brewed coffee has about 160 mg. On the other hand, just one 16-ounce strong coffee from your favorite beanery can contain close to your day’s limit. Not a fan of coffee? A 12-ounce cola offers about 30 mg of caffeine, an energy drink typically falls at between 100 and 200 mg of caffeine per 12 ounces, and a cup of hot cocoa has about 5 mg of caffeine per 8 ounces (as does the same serving of decaf coffee). A 1.5-ounce serving of dark chocolate contains about 30 mg of caffeine.

Want to know more about how your coffee mix-ins may affect your weight? Take a look at my “Could What You Put in Your Coffee Hurt Your Weight Loss?” blog post.

For children and adolescents, specific moderate and safe amounts have not been set in the United States. Because caffeine is a stimulant, teens (and adults) should try to avoid consuming several sources of caffeine within short time periods (coffee and an energy drink within an hour of each other) or mix caffeine sources in such a way that more than 400 mg will be consumed in one sitting.

What are your caffeine habits? Tell me on Connect @amy_gorin!

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Amy Gorin is a freelance writer and registered dietitian nutritionist in New Jersey. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.