Is Caffeine Good for Me?

Jose Deanda (1)By Jose Deanda


The topic of caffeine’s health benefits, or health risks, is certainly not a new one nor one in which health professionals all tend to agree.

One day caffeinated beverages are revered as integral to health; next they’re the culprit to such conditions as irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping, staying asleep and contributors to increased anxiety and panic.

Although caffeine can be beneficial — by way of its ability to increase focus and alertness — the source and quantity are of extreme importance.

You might be on your way to class, just coming off the weekend and you’re just not feeling it, so you decide you need some caffeine in your system and now you’re trying to figure out if you go to Hortencia’s or Finnegan’s and what to get.

First, what to avoid and why. Energy drinks such as Monster are just way too much of everything. They contain a mixture of stimulants, which according to a physician specializing in internal medicine and psychiatry, “…are very dangerous and have caused users unexpected trips to the emergency room.”

If you take a look at the label, you’ll notice the energy blend is 2,000 mg, and one of the main ingredients in the mix is caffeine. Moderate intake, according to the most recent dietary guidelines, is 400 mg a day, considerably less than 2,000 mg. Sodas are also good to stay away from, especially taking into account they contain anywhere from 40-65 grams of added sugars coming from high fructose corn syrup.

The next thing to avoid — that is, if you’re trying to be healthy with your caffeine intake — are beverages such as frappuccinos, or lattes with some extra sugar and whole milk. All this added syrup and sugar turn a good beverage into a bad one. So be careful. Many times you’re looking for the caffeine and you inadvertently get a lot of sugar with a little caffeine.

So what is a healthy amount of caffeine then? Well, the dietary guidelines flat out recommend you don’t start consuming caffeine if you already don’t, but if you do, a moderate intake is considered acceptable (up to 400 mg a day). A cup of coffee can contain up to 120 mg of caffeine in it and is best taken black (without added cream or sugar). The doctor I interviewed for this told me his general recommendation was one cup a day or its equivalent. If you like black or green tea, you can have about two cups and still be at the same level of caffeine as if you had a cup of coffee.

Enough about the sources we’d be better off at avoiding. Let’s go over some of the better choices for caffeine consumption, if that’s what you decide on. Black coffee, espresso, green tea, black tea, oolong tea, yerba mate and chocolate are all good options. The thing to watch with the chocolate is it’s not attached to tons of added sugars from milk. Generally the dark chocolate is the good one. But beware, it does contain a good amount of fats.

Something to consider as well is the time of consumption of your caffeine, particularly if you’re prone to insomnia. You want to avoid consuming anything caffeinated after 3 p.m. And if you go to bed early, earlier than that. Drinking your coffee or tea in the morning would be your best bet and avoiding it later in the day would be best and make for a restful night of sleep.

I recently tuned in to a discussion on National Public Radio regarding coffee. NPR went over a lot of the points that have been discussed in this article, but what was of particular interest was they pointed out research is indicating healthy gut bacteria feeds off of the coffee and therefore enhances coffee’s beneficial aspects. That’s certainly a good point for the proponents of coffee.

To keep things simple, avoid the products heavy with added sugars, such as sodas and the majority of coffee products sold. Definitely stay away from the energy drinks and limit your consumption of caffeine to up to four cups of coffee or the equivalent — even better just one. Don’t drink it too late and remember plain coffee and tea beverages are the real healthy options when it comes to caffeine.


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