In this report
Overview

Waking up to caffeine

Last reviewed: October 2011

Caffeine is complicated. Moderate coffee drinking, once considered a vice (if a benign one), can reduce the risk of gallstones, Parkinson's disease, type 2 diabetes, and other health problems. Caffeine helps relieve pain when combined with acetaminophen or other painkillers. And modest amounts of the stimulant can improve alertness and cognitive performance.

But too much can cause jitters, difficulty concentrating, and sleep problems. And too much caffeine could be a problem for people with heart disease or osteoporosis.

It's not easy to know how much caffeine you're getting. Manufacturers don't have to disclose the amount in a product, just its presence, and only if the caffeine is added, as in colas or energy drinks. Caffeine that occurs naturally in chocolate or botanical ingredients such as guarana doesn't have to be mentioned. And caffeine is showing up in weird places, from beef jerky to chewing gum.

We looked at 27 beverages, snacks, and over-the-counter drugs that contain caffeine. All the drugs listed caffeine amounts, and it was easier to find caffeine content on beverage packages than on snacks. Two snack companies had information on their websites; others told us the caffeine content when we asked. For Lollyphile caffeinated maple-bacon lollipops (yes, caffeinated lollipops) and Perky Jerky, customer-service representatives would give only rough estimates.

Caffeine levels varied widely, from 12 milligrams in a 1.55-ounce bar of Hershey's milk chocolate to a pulse-revving 415 milligrams in a 20 fluid-ounce venti Starbucks Bold Pick of the Day. Diet Coke had more than Diet Pepsi (47 milligrams compared with 35 milligrams per 12-fluid-ounce serving), and that Venti Starbucks had 70 percent more caffeine than the same-size cup of Dunkin' Donuts regular coffee. Starbucks Trenta iced coffee (31 fluid ounces!) actually had much less caffeine than the 20-fluid-ounce hot coffee, possibly because the ice takes up so much space. Other differences: Dark chocolate had more caffeine than milk chocolate, and a 6-ounce container of Dannon coffee yogurt had the same caffeine content—30 milligrams—as just 4 ounces of Häagen-Dazs coffee frozen yogurt.

Bottom line

Most healthy adults can safely consume up to 300 milligrams per day; pregnant women, less than 200 milligrams; and children, no more than 45 to 85 milligrams, depending on age. Check labels or brand websites for actual quantities.

Drinks

Bawls Guarana

16 fl. oz. 104 mg

Mountain Dew

12 fl. oz. 54 mg

Pepsi Max

12 fl. oz. 69 mg

Snapple Lemon Flavored Tea

16 fl. oz. 62 mg

 

Snacks

Ben & Jerry's Coffee Heath Bar Crunch

½ cup 42 mg

Dannon All Natural Coffee Low Fat Yogurt

6 oz. 30 mg

Hershey's Special Dark Chocolate Bar

1 bar (1.45 oz.) 25 mg

Jolt Gum

2 pieces 55 mg*

*Package states that two pieces "contain about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee." A company representative told us that two pieces contain 55 mg.
 

Over-the-counter medicines

Dexatrim Max Daytime Appetite Control

1 caplet 200 mg

Excedrin Extra Strength

1 capsule, gel, or tablet 65 mg

NoDoz Maximum Strength

1 tablet 200 mg