Caffeine quite literally keeps Americans up and moving, with approximately 85 percent of Americans consuming a daily coffee, tea, soda, or energy drink. However, a lot of confusion still surrounds the caffeine conversation. This year, as March rolls “in like a lion,” many of us will harness the power of caffeine to help us power through our annual spring cleaning and support our active lifestyles. Coincidentally, March is also Caffeine Awareness Month—the perfect time to tidy up lingering public confusion surrounding caffeine and wipe away any myths that still linger.
Myth #1: Pregnant women should avoid or eliminate caffeine from all sources
Tired pregnant women can rejoice! Pregnancy is not necessarily an immediate call to cut out all caffeine. Rather, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), among other sources, including Health Canada and the European Food Safety Authority, recommends simply reducing overall caffeine consumption. For the general population, consuming around 400 milligrams of caffeine daily is considered safe. This equates to about four 8-ounce cups of brewed coffee per day. For pregnant and lactating women, these agencies, along with the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, recommend reducing this amount by half, to no more than 200 milligrams (two 8-ounce cups of coffee) daily.
Other population groups may also want to moderate their caffeine intake, including older individuals and those with heart conditions. In addition, because every person’s sensitivity to caffeine is different, it’s important to note signs of excess caffeination, such as jitteriness or a fast heart rate. Additionally, the FDA has not set a safe level for caffeine consumption for children, but the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that children and adolescents should not consume caffeine or other stimulants.
Myth #2: Coffee brewed at home contains the same amount of caffeine as coffee-house coffee
Unless you have some advanced barista skills, it is unlikely that the coffee you brew at home contains the same amount of caffeine as your favorite coffee shop’s cup of joe. This is typically because the proportions you use for your at-home batch will differ from the larger volumes they use in the shop. And even if you are home-brewing on your days off from the coffee shop, the amount of caffeine you consume can vary vastly depending on factors such as where your coffee beans were grown, how they were processed, and what brewing methods you use. For example, large canisters of drip coffee at your local shop will inherently contain a different amount of caffeine from the specialty beans you use in your French press—even if the proportions are precisely the same.
It’s also important to note that different types of caffeinated drinks can have varying amounts of caffeine. For example, a typical cup of black tea contains on average 48 milligrams of caffeine, while a cup of brewed coffee contains 96 milligrams. Espresso-based specialty beverages, such as lattes and cappuccinos, while sometimes considered a “cup” of coffee, also contain different amounts—an average 86 milligrams of caffeine. For those who use a midday coffee run as a quick break from work, it may be smart to rotate between home-brewed coffee, coffee-shop coffee, and specialty drinks depending on how much caffeine you’ve consumed earlier in the day. Balance is key to maintaining your daily consumption to under the recommended amount of 400 milligrams a day.
Myth #3: Naturally occurring caffeine is better for your health
The main difference between naturally occurring caffeine and artificial caffeine is where it comes from. Natural caffeine is found in many plant-based foods with which we are already familiar—including coffee beans, tea leaves, and cacao. Artificial caffeine, however, is synthetically produced and added to products like energy drinks and supplements. Chemically, natural and artificial caffeine are identical, which means they perform identically in the human body. Regardless of your beverage (or food!) of choice, caffeine is caffeine. It can give you an extra burst of energy to help you stay awake, keep you more alert, and possibly increase your physical performance. The bottom line: All caffeine, natural or artificial, will have the same impact on the body.
Final thoughts to keep in mind
Caffeine can readily fit into a healthy diet for most people. While moderate caffeine consumption is defined as 400 milligrams daily, the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans offer additional advice on caffeine consumption at different life stages. This includes reducing (but not necessarily eliminating) caffeine when pregnant or lactating and avoiding caffeine completely for children. If you are still confused, especially concerning the amount of caffeine you may be consuming, Food Insight’s Caffeine website can answer more questions you may have. This resource features a caffeine calculator to help you figure out how much caffeine you truly consume in a day. Always keep in mind, though, that these numbers may vary slightly—caffeine amounts differ from bean to bean and leaf to leaf. Whether we consume it in the form of a morning cup of coffee, our afternoon tea, or a caffeine-containing gel pouch before a big race, caffeine plays a big role in our lives. It’s important to remind ourselves of the factual information behind our daily caffeine intake and scrutinize any myths that come our way.
This article was written by Courtney Schupp, MPH, RD.