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Food and Nutrition

Caffeine in Food

Caffeine is consumed as a natural part of coffee, tea, chocolate and certain flavours (e.g. those derived from kola and guarana), and may be added to carbonated soft drinks. When used in food, caffeine is regulated as a food additive under the Food and Drug Regulations, which requires a thorough safety assessment by Health Canada scientists before any new uses are permitted.

Caffeine exhibits a number of biological effects resulting from its diuretic and stimulant properties. ResearchFootnote 1 has shown that some sensitive individuals experience side effects such as insomnia, headaches, irritability and nervousness. As with any substance, there can be numerous other contributing factors, but Canada's Guidelines to Healthy Eating advises consumers that limiting caffeine is a wise precaution.

A reviewNote de bas de page 2 undertaken by Health Canada scientists has considered the numerous studies dealing with caffeine and its potential health effects. It has re-confirmed that for the average adult, moderate daily caffeine intake at dose levels of 400 mg/day is not associated with any adverse effects. Data has shown, however, that women of childbearing age and children may be at greater risk from caffeine. Consequently, as a precautionary measure, Health Canada has developed additional guidelines for these two groups. The recommended maximum caffeine intake levels shown in the table below are based on the most current research available.

Health Canada has not developed definitive advice for adolescents 13 and older because of insufficient data. Nonetheless, Health Canada suggests that daily caffeine intake for this age group be no more than 2.5 mg/kg body weight. This is because the maximum adult caffeine dose may not be appropriate for light weight adolescents or for younger adolescents who are still growing. The daily dose of 2.5 mg/kg body weight would not cause adverse health effects in the majority of adolescent caffeine consumers. This is a conservative suggestion since older and heavier weight adolescents may be able to consume adult doses of caffeine without suffering adverse effects.

Recommended Maximum Caffeine Intake Levels for Children and Women of Childbearing Age

Children
 4 - 6 years   45 mg/day
 7 - 9 years   62.5 mg/day
10 - 12 years   85 mg/day

Women who are planning to become pregnant, pregnant women and breast feeding mothers
300 mg/day

Sources of Caffeine

Currently, pure caffeine and caffeine citrate may be added to cola-type beverages and it must be declared in the ingredients list on the product label. Caffeine may not be added to any other food.

Many foods and food ingredients contain caffeine from natural sources. The caffeine in food from natural food ingredients, crude extractives or natural flavours is not regulated when such ingredients are added to food. Nevertheless, such foods must still comply with the general food safety requirements of the Food and Drugs Act.

Most people associate caffeine with coffee, tea and chocolate. Other products, such as guarana, a Brazilian plant whose seeds are high in caffeine, and yerba mate, a South American herb used to make tea, are also natural sources of caffeine. These are increasing in popularity, and are being used more and more as food ingredients. Energy drinks and beer-like products containing guarana have recently appeared in the Canadian marketplace. It is important for consumers to know that these products contain caffeine, and to recognize all caffeine-containing ingredients on product labels.

Products containing caffeine are used and enjoyed by many people throughout the world. The best way for consumers to avoid any adverse effects from caffeine is to become familiar with the many sources of this substance, to read product labels and to moderate consumption of caffeine containing products.

The following is provided to assist consumers in understanding the contribution of various foods to caffeine intakes. To allow for ease of comparison of caffeine values for different products, serving sizes presented in the table below may differ from serving sizes given in the referenced literature. Referenced caffeine values are adjusted accordingly.

The following is provided to assist consumers in understanding the contribution of various foods to caffeine intakes.
Product
Serving Size
(unless otherwise
stated)
Milligrams of
Caffeine
(approximate values)
 
oz
ml
 
Coffee
     
Brewed
8
237(1cup)
135
Roasted and ground, percolated
8
237
118
Roasted and ground, filter drip
8
237
179
Roasted and ground, decaffeinated
8
237
3
Instant
8
237
76 - 106
Instant decaffeinated
8
237
5
 
The following is provided to assist consumers in understanding the contribution of various foods to caffeine intakes.
Product
Serving Size
(unless otherwise
stated)
Milligrams of
Caffeine
(approximate values)
 
oz
ml
 
Tea
     
Average blend
8
237
43
Green
8
237
30
Instant
8
237
15
leaf or bag
8
237
50
Decaffeinated tea
8
237
0
 
The following is provided to assist consumers in understanding the contribution of various foods to caffeine intakes.
Product
Serving Size
(unless otherwise
stated)
Milligrams of
Caffeine
(approximate values)
 
oz
ml
 
Cola Beverages
     
Cola beverage, regular
12
355(1 can)
36 - 46
Cola beverage, diet
12
355
39 - 50
 
The following is provided to assist consumers in understanding the contribution of various foods to caffeine intakes.
Product
Serving Size
(unless otherwise
stated)
Milligrams of
Caffeine
(approximate values)
 
oz
ml
 
Cocoa Products
     
Chocolate milk
8
237
8
1 envelope hot-cocoa mix
8
237
5
Candy, milk chocolate
1
28g
7
Candy, sweet chocolate
1
28g
19
Baking chocolate, unsweetened
1
28g
25 - 58
Chocolate cake
2.8
80g
36
Chocolate brownies
1.5
42g
10
Chocolate mousse
3.2
90g
15
Chocolate pudding
5.1
145g
9

Values in table referenced from the following sources:

Harland, B.F. 2000. Caffeine and nutrition. Nutrition 16(7-8):522-526.
Shils, et al., 1999. Modern nutrition in health and disease. 9th Edition. Williams and Wilkins. Waverly Company, Baltimore

Related Resources

  • Using the recommended intake of 2.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day and based on average body weights of children (Health and Welfare Canada, 1990), based on "behavioural effects".
  • Based on possible adverse effects on some factors of reproduction and development.

Footnotes

Footnote 1

Health and Welfare Canada, 1990. Nutrition Recommendations.

Return to footnote 1 referrer

Footnote 2

Next link will take you to another Web site Effects of Caffeine on Human Health, P. Nawrot, S. Jordan, J. Eastwood, J. Rotstein, A. Hugenholtz and M. Feeley, Food Additives and Contaminants, 2003, Vol. 20, No. 1, pg. 1-30.

Return to footnote 2 referrer