Caffeine – How much is enough?

By Lynn Roblin MSc.RD.​

What’s your pleasure – coffee, espresso, café latte, or cappuccino?

Coffee choices are becoming more sophisticated and certainly more available as coffee bars and specialty shops are springing up all over the place.

Despite our enjoyment of a good cup of coffee, especially to wake us up in the morning, many people wonder if the caffeine we get from coffee and other drinks is good for our health and how much we can safely consume.

Most of our caffeine intake comes from coffee (about 60%) and tea (about 30%). The rest comes from cola drinks, chocolate and drugs, such as headache and cold medicine

In healthy adults, almost all caffeine goes directly into the bloodstream, and reaches peak concentrations 15 to 45 minutes after drinking a cup of coffee.

Caffeine travels to all parts of the body, including the fetus in pregnant women and breast milk in nursing mothers. Because of this pregnant and nursing women should consume as little caffeine as possible.

Caffeine has been linked with an increased risk of osteoporosis. New research is showing that this isn’t a concern if caffeine intakes are not excessive and calcium intakes are adequate. To help protect bone health, women should drink one cup of milk for every cup of regular coffee.

People are affected by caffeine in different ways. It can help produce alertness during periods of fatigue, but too much can cause irritability, anxiety, headaches, a racing heartbeat and sleep problems.

As little as 200 mg of caffeine – the amount found in 1 1/2 cups of non-gourmet coffee – can make some people feel jittery or anxious. It may take even less for children who consume cola soft drinks.

Cutting back on caffeine often causes withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, nausea, drowsiness, muscle tension, and irritability in regular users. These feelings tend to be short lived, and can be lessened by a gradual reduction in caffeine intake.

Concern about caffeine and health exists because, over the years, caffeine has been linked with ulcers, heartburn, heart disease, cancer, breast lumps and birth defects. However, regular moderate consumption of caffeine has not been proven to cause any of these health problems.

According to Health Canada’s nutrition recommendations, intakes of 400 to 450 mg of caffeine a day (three to four cups of coffee or tea) are okay.

But regular drinkers of unfiltered coffee beware! Dr. Terry Graham, who has studied caffeine extensively at the University of Guelph says “there’s evidence that unfiltered coffee may increase blood cholesterol levels”.

Substances found in the oils of ground coffee, such as cafestol and kahweol, can cause cholesterol levels to rise, but filtering will remove them. Coffees to watch out for include those that are made by direct boiling of ground coffee (camper coffee), coffee made in plunger-style coffee makers and percolators of the 1950’s and 60″s, and unfiltered brews such as Turkish coffee and espresso. You may want to drink these less often or switch to filtered brews.


The caffeine content, in milligrams, of a variety of beverages:

Coffee (8 oz):
Non-gourmet 135 (average)
Instant 95
Espresso (2 oz) 70
Cappuccino and café latte 35
Decaffeinated non-gourmet

Tea (8 oz):
Leaf or bag 50
Green or instant 30
Ice Tea Bottled (12 oz) or instant mix (8 oz) 15
Decaffeinated tea 5

Cola Soft drinks (12 oz) 35
Cocoa or hot chocolate (8 oz) 5