Caffeine Awareness Month

This month is National Caffeine Awareness Month.  In honor of this “holiday”, I would like to start by telling you why I love caffeine.  Let’s count the ways!  First, it a stimulant.  It wakes up parts of my brain to keep me awake when all I want to do is sleep.  Second, it also makes me happy as it signals my brain to feel good and have a great sense of well-being.  This of course is why it is so addictive.  We can all stop anytime we want, right?  And my favorite part of caffeine is that it comes with so many delicious methods of delivery: chocolate, coffee, coffee ice cream, iced coffee, iced chocolate coffee, hot chocolate.

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But, just 250 milligrams of caffeine per day – that’s 2 to 3 cups of coffee, wakes up the brain, improves concentration, relieves stress and may also help you live longer according to several studies.  Tea and coffee are an essential drink that most of us wake up to each morning.  Who can’t live without them?  Because they are such a part of our routine, it means that it can be difficult to envision any alternative or doing away with them altogether.  Caffeine Awareness Month presents an opportunity to be mindful of the amount of caffeine we are drinking and to be educated about the potential advantages of substitutes.

Marina Kushner, founder and CEO of the Caffeine Awareness Association states, "Caffeine is not only considered habit forming, but also addicting — and we drink, on average, more than 2 servings of caffeinated beverages every day. During this month, we hope to reach out to educate businesses and consumers about the threat of caffeine addiction and to raise awareness about the impact it has on society."  

If you’re trying to cut back, you’ve probably already reduced the amount of coffee, tea, and sodas that you consume. But the sneaky stimulant can pop up in unexpected places. Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t require manufacturers to list caffeine content on nutrition labels, it’s often hard to tell whether a product contains the stimulant, and how much. I listed some products from Health.com that are sources of caffeine—some hidden, some just plain weird—they could be giving you the jitters.

Decaf coffee

The name implies that this cup of java delivers all the taste you love without the caffeine, but don’t be fooled. In 2007, Consumer Reports tested 36 cups of decaffeinated coffee from six coffee standbys, including Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts. Compared to the caffeine found in a regular cup (generally around 100 milligrams), the decaf samples had less, but some packed in over 20 mg.

Non-cola sodas

Colas and other sodas like Mountain Dew are well-known to be caffeinated, but others play less obvious roles in your daily caffeine intake. Some brands of root beer, such as Barq’s, contain caffeine. Both the regular and diet flavors have 23 milligrams per 12-ounce can, just 12 milligrams less than a can of Coke. Sunkist’s orange soda has a surprising 41 milligrams of caffeine, and A&W Cream Soda has about 25 milligrams. WOW!

Chocolate

Caffeine is found naturally in cocoa beans, so any chocolate has a little bit of the stimulant. Candy bars generally have less than 10 milligrams, but the darker the chocolate, the higher the caffeine content. Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate Bar has a whopping 31 milligrams, almost as much as a can of Coke! Some chocolate is fortified with additional caffeine for an energy boost—take the limited edition Snickers Charge, which has 60 milligrams of caffeine, about the same as a cup of tea.

Ice cream

If there’s coffee or chocolate in your ice cream, expect the scoop to deliver a small jolt. Many popular brands have coffee flavors that contain between 30 and 45 milligrams of caffeine per half cup, which is about the same as a can of Coke. Chocolate ice cream has much less, however; a half cup of Breyer’s All Natural Chocolate ice cream has only 3 milligrams, according to a Consumer Reports analysis. 

Weight-loss pills

Caffeine really doesn’t do much to shrink your waistline, yet diet pill manufacturers have overloaded their pills with the stimulant. For example, taking 1,223 milligrams in a daily dose of Zantrex-3 is like having 12 cups of coffee, according to a 2005 analysis conducted byConsumerLab.com.

Pain relievers

A little caffeine can curb headaches, but in large quantities it can actually cause them, some research suggests. Many pain relievers incorporate caffeine to ease the pain, but if you take more than the label suggests, you could be taking more than you need. Two Excedrin Migraine tablets have 130 milligrams of caffeine, the same as a Starbucks Light Frappuccino with espresso. 

Energy water

Caffeinated water is a new trend with manufacturers. Some packaging, like that of the former Fruit2O Energy, which boasted as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, displays caffeine content prominently. But others, specifically those flavored with Guarana, a Brazilian plant that is a natural source of caffeine, are less obvious; for example, Propel’s limited edition Invigorating flavor has 50 milligrams of caffeine, as does VitaminWater’s Energy flavor. 

Breath fresheners

The makers of Jolt Cola, which had the maximum amount of caffeine allowed in colas before it was reformulated as an energy drink, also sell caffeinated gum and mints. Two pieces of Jolt gum provides the caffeine in a cup of coffee. Three of Penguin’s caffeinated mints equal the caffeine content of a cup of coffee, and just one Foosh mint contains the same amount of caffeine as Jolt. 

SumSeeds Energized Sunflower Seeds

Marketed as a healthier alternative to energy drinks, these seeds are infused with caffeine, plus natural energy boosters taurine, lysine, and ginseng. Sunflower seeds are a vitamin powerhouse, packed with folate, B6, and vitamin E, and they don’t contain the added sugar of sodas or energy drinks. But one serving of energized seeds has 140 milligrams of caffeine, about the same as four cans of Coke.

Perky Jerky

Looking for your afternoon pick-me-up in a package of beef jerky just seems strange. However, this version actually has less fat and sodium and fewer calories per serving than traditional beef jerky. And it packs a serious punch: One serving has about 75 milligrams of caffeine, about the same as one can of Red Bull. 

So, in keeping with the theme of caffeine awareness, here are some great ways to try and change up your morning coffee routine.  Besides cutting back on the amount of caffeine you drink, try swapping your morning espresso for a fruit smoothie or mint tea.  If that isn’t something that sounds like a fair trade, try a morning run/walk or workout to invigorate your day.  It may be an opportunity to discover that a daily caffeine hit may not be as indispensable as you originally thought.

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