Do you start your day with a coffee? Find you need another one mid-morning and maybe after work? Do you make it at home, buy it from a shop or have a fancy special coffee maker?
In the UK, coffee drinking has increased phenomenally over the past 10yrs with 95 million cups of coffee being drunk every day (whereas we still drink around 165 million cups of tea a day!). Whether you’re a coffee lover, tea enthusiast, or partial to both, many of us rely on a caffeine hit in the morning to help kick-start our day and give us that extra burst of energy we need to tackle the tasks ahead.
Have you ever stopped to think what caffeine even is though?
There is no ‘safe’ level of intake as such because like most drugs, caffeine has a different effect from person to person, depending on:
Weight and height
Whether you’re taking medication and how much
Individual sensitivity to caffeine
How often you usually consume caffeinated products
However, guidance from the NHS advise against consuming more than 4 cups of coffee a day and no more than 2 cups for pregnant women. These guidelines are based on evidence that suggests consuming up to this amount of caffeine per day won't heighten the risk of any adverse long-term health effects.
‘The caffeine content of coffee is far greater than tea’ – interestingly, tea actually contains more caffeine than coffee on a dry weight basis! But as we consume less tea when preparing a brew compared to coffee, the amount of caffeine we actually consume is much less overall.
‘All shop-bought coffees have a similar caffeine content’ – not so - the caffeine content of a cup of coffee can vary greatly depending on; cup size, how finely the coffee is ground, how dark the roast, the brewing method used, how much coffee is used to make the drink and the type of coffee bean used.
‘White teas always have less caffeine than black teas’ – this is a common assumption, however the type of tea isn’t the biggest influence on caffeine content. It is instead largely determined by how it’s been brewed; hotter water and a longer steeping time will result in more caffeine being released from the leaves. In fact, in its dry state, white tea often contains the most caffeine because it is the least processed.
‘Caffeine can’t kill’ – although incredibly rare, an overdose of caffeine can be fatal. It’s incredibly hard to consume enough however (about 100 cups of coffee in a 2-3 hour period), but you need to be aware of the caffeine content of others things you may consume such as slimming medications, caffeinated energy drinks etc...
‘Coffee is dehydrating’ – Although it’s true that coffee does have a diuretic effect, studies have shown that you’d have to drink an excessive amount for it to actually cause enough fluid loss for it to be dehydrating. For this reason, coffee can be counted towards your 6-8 glasses of fluid per day although its important to remember that they aren’t as hydrating as pure water.
Should we be concerned? Caffeine has some positive & negative side effects, and it’s useful for us to be aware of some of these :
Worsened menopause symptoms
Caffeine and alcohol have both been shown to make hot flushes, experienced by women during the menopause, worse – especially in those people already sensitive to the effects of caffeine. Heightened anxiety
Research suggests increased levels of anxiety and impaired sleep when consuming large amounts of caffeine (more than 5 cups of coffee a day).
Short term health effects
Some individuals may experience adverse effects relating to the central nervous system including interrupted sleep, headaches, irritability, and behavioural changes. Some studies have also indicated increased incidences of aggressive behaviour among adolescents regularly consuming caffeinated products, especially popular caffeinated energy drinks.
High blood pressure
The NHS suggest that drinking 4 or more cups of coffee a day may increase blood pressure. Caffeine can cause a short, but dramatic increase in your blood pressure, even if you don't have high blood pressure. It's unclear what causes this spike in blood pressure.
What about the benefits?
Despite the things listed above, coffee can have some positive affects too:
Drinking a cup of coffee 30 minutes before exercise can allow you to exercise for up to 30% longer. This is thought to be down to stimulation of the central nervous system, making exercise feel like less of an effort and reduces pain.
As already mentioned, caffeine has been shown to both increase alertness and reduce fatigue, which is especially beneficial when working late at night for example.
Some studies have suggested that increased caffeine consumption, particularly in the form of coffee, is consistently associated with lower risk of depression. The main reason for this is due to the other ingredients in coffee such as chlorogenic acid, ferulic acid, and caffeic acid, which may work to reduce nerve cell inflammation.
So it’s fine to drink tea and coffee as part of a balanced diet, but it's important that these drinks are not your main or only source of fluid. It’s important to be aware of the positive and negative effects and as long as you drink it in moderation.
Mine‘s a latte by the way..... should you ever need to know 😀