The world’s most popular drug: caffeine. More than 80% of North Americans regularly consume caffeine, and roughly 85% of the U.S. population drinks it daily. This psychoactive ingredient is known for temporarily blocking adenosine (the chemical connected to how tired we feel), increasing our alertness, prompting many people to ingest different drinks, such as coffee or tea, when drowsy. It also boosts other “feel good” hormones such as dopamine, putting us in a better mood. But depending on your preferred caffeinated drink, how does it affect your body?
Typically what we think of when we need an afternoon pick-up or extra boost of energy is coffee. However, with its benefits, coffee does have its drawbacks. After consumption, coffee stimulates our brains, causing a higher feeling of alertness. It also can increase your metabolic rate and enhance performance during physical exercise. On the other hand, it may increase your blood pressure, nervousness, and give you jitters if you have not had coffee recently. Caffeine from coffee is also very addictive. A sudden stop after regularly consuming the drink may cause headaches or nausea. One eight-ounce cup of coffee fits the FDA’s suggested measurement of 400 milligrams of caffeine per day, though do be cautious if deciding to take a break.
Similar to coffee, energy drinks typically use caffeine as a stimulant, though some plant-based may use some plant-based stimulants like ginseng or guarana. A second substance high on the ingredient list in most energy drinks is sugar. Because of the large amounts of sugar in these drinks, they can increase your energy levels, but the crash afterward will be just as harsh. Continued incorporation of these beverages may cause anxiety, sleeplessness, headaches, irritability, or irregular heart rates. In the long run, you may risk obesity or type 2 diabetes, and, in rare cases, seizures. Despite these cautions, brands like Red Bull, Monster, and Rockstar produce energy drinks with caffeine levels below that recommended by the FDA.
Though not the highest caffeine content, many sodas make up for that in sugar content. Drinks with such high sugar levels are essentially liquid sugar with few health benefits. Sodas offer a temporary energy burst the same as caffeine from a cup of coffee but are less brain-stimulating. After repeated consumption, these drinks can cause your pancreas to increase insulin production that evolves into insulin resistance, which can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes or heart disease. Highly sugared beverages may also increase the risk of cancer, addiction, and leptin resistance, leading to fat gain, dementia, and tooth decay.
While similar to green tea, matcha is more nutrient-rich. Matcha bushes are shaded for a period of time in the growth process, allowing for more chlorophyll production, giving it its bright green hue and nutrients. This tea does not have quite as much caffeine in it as does a cup of coffee, though it has the same side effects of increased alertness, higher metabolic rates, and brain stimulation. It also is high in a catechin called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG ). This catechin is believed to help fight cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. A final benefit of matcha, and all teas, is that it is a non-addictive caffeinated drink. This means that if you regularly drink tea and suddenly stop, you will not experience withdrawal symptoms.
Despite not being a beverage, cocoa is known for having mild levels of caffeine in it. The caffeine comes from cocoa beans as they are shelled, fermented, dried, and liquified in the chocolate-making process. Along with this, caffeine levels are directly related to the color of the chocolate: the darker the chocolate, the more cocoa, and caffeine will be in it. Keeping in mind the potential disadvantages of processed sugars, higher quality chocolate with a minimal, natural ingredients list will be more beneficial than a regular chocolate bar.
All in all, caffeine is not bad for your health when consumed in moderation, but you should be mindful of how you consume it. For example, sugary drinks like colas can lead to more harm than good, while teas and coffee may better benefit your mental alertness. It’s also essential to be mindful when decreasing your caffeine intake as it may lead to headaches and other symptoms of withdrawal.