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Canadians can’t get enough coffee, tea, pop and energy drinks, thanks to their special ingredient, caffeine. It’s no surprise caffeine is adored by so many. It gives you an early morning boost, helps your memory and triggers feelings of happiness. But could too much harm your health? And is it possible to become addicted?
What is caffeine?
Caffeine is a naturally occurring drug found in coffee, cola, tea and chocolate. It’s also added to medications, energy and sports drinks. Famous for its stimulating properties, caffeine has been used in food and medications for hundreds of years.
How caffeine works
Massimo Marcone, an associate professor and food scientist at the University of Guelph says it doesn’t take long for caffeine to work its magic. ‘Within approximately 15 to 20 minutes of caffeine being consumed, it’s absorbed into the blood stream. It travels up to the brain where it acts as a stimulant and you start getting different effects,’ he says. You may feel wide-awake and experience a temporary improvement to your memory, mood, reflexes and comprehension. ‘In studies when people were given certain activities like mathematics, they actually perform better when they’ve consumed a small amount of caffeine like one cup of coffee (130 to 140 mg).’
But caffeine will also give you the urge to visit the bathroom more often. ‘It’s also a diuretic, so it causes the body to eliminate liquid,’ says Marcone.
Where are Canadians getting their caffeine?
Health Canada states that 60 percent of Canadian adults take in caffeine through coffee, while 30 percent get their fix with tea. The remaining 10 percent of Canadians’ consumption of caffeine comes from pop, energy drinks, chocolate and medications. The majority of Canadian children aged one to five’55 percent’get most of their caffeine from drinking colas, with 30 percent coming from tea, 14 percent chocolate and the rest from various other sources including over-the-counter cold preparations.
How much can you safely consume?
Adult Canadians should consume no more than 400 mg of caffeine per day according to Health Canada. This amount equals approximately three cups of coffee per day (237 mL per cup).
The maximum caffeine consumption for Canadian children is based on weight (2.5 mg per kilogram of body weight). Using average body weight findings, the daily maximum for children aged four to six is 45 mg, children aged seven to nine is 62.5 mg and children aged 10 to 12 is 85 mg. Health Canada recommends the same equation for adolescents aged 13 and older. These maximums equal to one or two cans of cola per day (based on 355 mL cans).
If you have trouble waking up, caffeine can be your best friend. It acts as a pick-me-up, keeping you alert. Athletes can also benefit from the boost that caffeine provides. Because it has such a big impact on physical endurance, caffeine is on the International Olympic Committee’s list of banned substances. Caffeine is also found in many medications including aspirin, acetaminophen and some migraine headache prescriptions. Its presence in medication helps alleviate pain by constricting dilated blood vessels in the head.
Too much caffeine’consuming 600 mg or more a day’can spark body shakes, insomnia, irritability, dehydration, dizzy spells, diarrhea, even convulsions. ‘When you’re consuming a small amount of caffeine it’s actually beneficial, but as you continue to consume it, too much leads to things that [aren’t] desirable,’ says Marcone. Children who consume caffeine can have difficulty learning because they can’t sit still or pay attention.
Are you consuming too much?
Statistics Canada found that 20 percent of men and 15 percent of women in the 31 to 70 age range exceeded Health Canada’s daily recommendations for caffeine. If you’re downing your favourite brew in a cup larger than 237 mL ‘ as many coffee shops provide nowadays ‘ you’ll quickly hit or surpass the daily maximum, possibly with just one beverage. Add in all the other products you use during the day containing caffeine and you’re in the danger zone.
The consumption of energy and sports drinks among Canadian kids and teens is an increasing concern. Children love the taste and lift these drinks offer. Health Canada warns that some of these beverages contain as much’if not more’caffeine as a single 237 mL cup of coffee exceeding the recommended daily consumption for young Canadians.
‘[Caffeine consumption] has been increasing over the last decade,’ says Marcone. ‘With the amount that’s being consumed, people should be cautious.’ While many people feel like they’re addicted to caffeine’s buzz, the good news is ‘ they’re really not. ‘It can be very habit forming, but you can’t really form a true addiction to caffeine,’ he says.
Canadians do have options when it comes to their love of caffeine: decaffeinated coffee has fewer caffeine-fueled side effects, tea contains less caffeine than coffee, and pop lovers can opt for smaller 222 mL cans. You can still enjoy the kick of caffeine; just be mindful of serving sizes, so you don’t go overboard with too much.
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