How much caffeine is too much?

eating-out · 26 Oct 18

Being born and bred in Brisbane, one of the biggest things I noticed when I moved to Melbourne eight years ago was the coffee culture. You see, in Melbourne when you step into a café, instead of being greeted with “Would you like something to drink to start?”, you’re greeted with “Would you like a coffee to start?” It’s like the waiters assume that everyone drinks coffee. And I soon found out why – because the coffee is just so. damn. good. And to be honest that’s one of the things I LOVE about Melbourne. I love the coffee vibe in the mornings, the fact that it’s just what you do when you need a break or a breath of fresh air, and just in case you missed it, I love how good the coffee is down here. It is seriously next level, and I have to admit I have become slightly addicted. Not to the point mind you where I need several shots a day to stay functioning (my brother Sean I’m looking at you right now Mr double espresso three times a day…), but I definitely notice the difference if I happen to miss my morning macchiato.

But how much coffee is too much, or caffeine for that matter? And is there an upper limit where you lose your mind and turn into a crazy person who never sleeps? We hear a lot about coffee in the news and there are always stories giving coffee the big thumbs up, but there’s also that stigma that coffee is not good for you. So, let’s settle this once and for all.

The first thing that’s worth pointing out is that caffeine is a stimulant, and it influences the sympathetic nervous system and gets the blood pumping in our bodies. Now this can be a good thing for some people (we all know those friends who claim they’re unable to hold a conversation pre-coffee), but it’s also a double-edged sword, where too much can lead us down the wrong path. When it comes to the research, and as with most things, moderation seems to be the best approach. Yep, that old chestnut. Moderation may seem like a mediocre kinda word, a bit bland and boring, but the truth is, it really is a good benchmark to follow. Most Aussies like to have a coffee every now and again and it’s a pleasure that many of us like to enjoy. But we’ve all been there where we’ve had one too many coffees and it’s literally left us jittery, anxious and completely on edge. These symptoms are a good indication that we’ve crossed over to the danger zone, and perhaps it’s time to look at cutting back. Caffeine metabolism is also very individual, as some people metabolise caffeine faster than others. For example, I could have a coffee at 1pm and still be able to sleep like a baby come bedtime whereas I know my poor mum can’t even have the smallest amount of caffeine after midday because any teeny tiny amount will be enough to keep her awake #notcool. You will generally know what your threshold is, but keep in mind the more coffee you drink, the higher your threshold becomes. Your body will then start to crave the same amount of caffeine each day to get that same buzz. It’s an easy trap to fall into so definitely one to watch out for.

The good news is that research has reported coffee consumption may help to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and the antioxidants found in coffee have been found to be beneficial for the body. But how much is too much? Well, from the studies to date, it seems that we wouldn’t want to have more than around 400mg of caffeine per day. That’s around 4-5 cups of coffee, but keep in mind if you order a large coffee, you’ll likely get two shots. Tea contains about half the amount of caffeine as coffee, and the other thing to consider are drinks like energy drinks or caffeinated soft drinks, which are packed full of caffeine and what us dietitians call ‘empty calories’, which means they simply offer no nutritional value. My advice is steer clear of these bad boys and grab a skinny latte or a piece of fruit if you need an energy boost.

So all in all, enjoy a couple of cups of coffee a day if you wish, but try not to go overboard. Also, have a think about how you’re sleeping – are you getting the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night or could your coffee habit be keeping you up? If so, aim to have your last coffee before midday and switch to herbal teas for the afternoon. Having a milky coffee in the morning can also be a great way to get 1/3 of your dairy serves in for the day. A small skinny latte will deliver a range of bone-strengthening vitamins and minerals, not to mention 9g of protein in one hit. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s recommended to reduce your caffeine intake to less than 200mg per day, and it’s always best to seek advice from a medical professional. So like most things, enjoy coffee in moderation, be mindful of your serving sizes, and try to wean yourself off sugar if that’s something you’ve always added. And finally, think about shifting your focus to those things that make having a coffee so special and really savour that. It’s often the connection with friends, family, co-workers or the loved ones that’s the most important thing of all.

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