When used unwisely, caffeine can overload the nervous system, stress your digestive system, lead to weight gain and cause addiction. If you follow reasonable guidelines for consuming caffeine in a healthy way, however, then it can boost your mood, stimulate your metabolism, improve physical performance and enhance your mental acuity. Some studies even show that caffeine helps protect against diabetes, Parkinson’s, liver disease and even several kinds of cancer, reports the Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation.
Drink in Moderation
In excess, drinking caffeine can cause anxiety, tremors, nausea, dehydration and, in some extreme cases, death, warns the University of Maryland Medical Center. You can avoid these unpleasant side effects, unless you are particularly sensitive, while still reaping all its short- and long-term benefits by drinking caffeine in moderation.
Limit yourself to 200 or 300 milligrams of caffeine per day, which means two or three cups of coffee, two to six cups of tea, four to eight servings of soda or two or three servings of an energy drink. Remember that one can of a caffeinated beverage usually contains multiple servings.
Drink in the Morning
Caffeine stays in your system for four to six hours, explains Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine. If the caffeine is still in your system when you go to bed, then you may experience insomnia or restless sleeping. Because a good night’s sleep serves a crucial role in your overall health, avoid drinking caffeine after the middle of the afternoon. This way, your body can process the caffeine fully during the waking part of the day, leaving your body caffeine-free and ready for sleep when it's bedtime.
Choose Low-Calorie Options
Although caffeine contains no calories, habitual caffeine consumption can lead to weight gain if you choose unhealthy beverages. A cup of black coffee contains about 5 calories, but if you load it up with sweeteners and creams, it can hold several hundred calories. A large, sweetened, iced coffee can contain upward of 500 calories, according to the Blue Mountain Hospital District website. A serving of regular soda can provide 150 calories or more, and one can holds two or more servings, reports the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign McKinley Health Center.
If you drink coffee, only add light amounts of cream and sugar. Choose nonfat, light or sugar-free creams or creamers. For both coffee and tea, use only light, sugar-free or natural sweeteners. If you drink soda or energy drinks, choose diet or sugar-free varieties.
Choose Beneficial Sources
Sodas and energy drinks offer only caffeine and either empty calories or potentially dangerous artificial sweeteners. The healthiest way to drink caffeine is to drink coffee or tea; these beverages result from natural substances and offer additional benefits. The oils in coffee, for example, may help protect against breast cancer, according to the Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation. Tea, especially green tea, might work against cancer; prevent coronary artery disease, diabetes and liver disease; lower high cholesterol and aid weight loss.
- Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center: Information About Caffeine Dependence
- “IFIC Review”; Caffeine & Health: Clarifying the Controversies; International Food Information Council Foundation; March 2008
- Northwest Parkinson’s Foundation; Coffee May Prevent Breast Cancer Among Postmenopausal Women; Leslie Beck
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Caffeine Overdose
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration; Medicines in My Home: Caffeine and Your Body; 2007
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, McKinley Health Center; What's the Buzz with Energy Drinks?; June 2011
- Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine: Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep
- Blue Mountain Hospital District; Coffee, Caffeine and Calories; Kim Jacobs
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Green Tea