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 know what foods contain this stimulating ingredient. While some sources are obvious, others might surprise you. Amounts vary broadly, even among similar foods.
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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 in a lesser 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 150 mg of caffeine, a cup of decaf contains roughly 5 to 6 mg. Of course specialty coffee and tea drinks also contain variable amounts of caffeine.
Soda, Energy Drinks and Other Beverages
Colas and energy drinks are obvious sources of caffeine, but 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 coffee or tea. And don't forget about coffee liqueurs, which are used in many mixed drinks.
Chocolate, Chocolate and More Chocolate
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, a 1.4 ounce serving of milk chocolate has 8 to 12 mg of caffeine but the same amount of dark chocolate contains about 27 mg. Sweet treats like brownies, fudge, and chocolate cookies, pudding and mousse contain variable amounts of caffeine, depending on the cocoa content.
Frozen Treats and Dairy
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.
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.
Reviewed by: Tina M. St. John, M.D.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Caffeine Intake by the U.S. Population
- Dietitians of Canada: Food Sources of Caffeine
- Foods and Nutrition Encyclopedia, 2nd Edition; Audrey H. Ensminger, et al.
- Health Canada: Caffeine in Food