Whether you're a strict caffeine abstainer or just want to limit your late-day intake to ensure a good night's sleep, it's helpful to be able to identify foods with caffeine. While some sources are obvious, others might surprise you. Amounts vary broadly, even among similar foods.
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Keep in mind that caffeine affects individuals differently. According to the Mayo Clinic, up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day is safe for most healthy adults. Consuming too much caffeine can lead to unpleasant side effects, such as irritability, nervousness, stomach issues, increased heart rate, headache and difficulty sleeping.
Read more: Long Term Effects of Caffeine
Consider Coffee and Tea
Regular coffee and black tea reign supreme as leading sources of caffeine. The amount varies, depending on the serving size and how strong you make your brew. Some people are surprised to learn that green and white teas also contain caffeine, although usually a lesser amount compared to black tea.
Another potential surprise is the fact that decaffeinated coffee is not caffeine-free. Whereas an 8-ounce cup of regular coffee contains about 80 to 100 milligrams of caffeine, a cup of decaf contains roughly 2 to 15 milligrams, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Specialty coffee and tea drinks also contain variable amounts of caffeine.
Identify Other Beverages
Colas and energy drinks are obvious sources of caffeine. According to the FDA, a 12-ounce can of a soft drink typically contains 30 to 40 milligrams of caffeine. Many other beverages also contain a caffeine jolt. Pepper-type sodas and some brands of root beer, lemon-lime soda and fruit-flavored drink mixes contain caffeine — as do most chocolate beverages.
Some bottled waters also contain caffeine, often in amounts similar to those of coffee or tea. And don't forget about coffee liqueurs, which are used in many mixed drinks.
Choose Your Chocolate
According to an article published in March 2016 in the journal Nutrients, even chocolate milk contains some caffeine. Cocoa beans naturally contain caffeine, so all chocolate and chocolate-flavored foods have some — assuming they are made with cocoa.
As a rule of thumb, the darker the chocolate, the more caffeine a product contains. For example, according to the International Food Information Council Foundation, 1 ounce of milk chocolate typically contains 6 milligrams of caffeine, but the same amount of dark chocolate contains about 20 milligrams.
Sweet treats like brownies, fudge, chocolate cookies, pudding and mousse contain variable amounts of caffeine, depending on the cocoa content.
Watch Your Desserts
Chocolate-, mocha- and coffee-flavored ice cream and frozen yogurt typically contain caffeine, which is boosted if you top your frozen treat with some chocolate sauce or hot fudge. Coffee, mocha and chocolate yogurts might also be hiding caffeine.
In general, coffee- and mocha-flavored dairy products and frozen treats contain more caffeine than their chocolate-flavored cousins.
Foods With Caffeine
Some food products use their caffeine content as a marketing tool. These caffeine-fortified foods are intended to perk you up without coffee. Energy and "power" bars are popular examples.
Other products that come in caffeine-fortified varieties include sunflower seeds, nuts, frozen waffles, snack chips, beef jerky — even marshmallows, jelly beans and gummy bears.
- Mayo Clinic: "Caffeine: How Much Is Too Much?"
- Food and Drug Administration: "Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine Is Too Much?"
- Nutrients: "Sources of Caffeine in Diets of US Children and Adults: Trends by Beverage Type and Purchase Location"
- International Food Information Council Foundation: "Everything You Need to Know About Caffeine"