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Caffeine: friend or foe? find a healthy balance

Melanie Schell, a health teacher at BJU, talks about caffeine for an article for the Collegian. Photo by Rebecca Snyder. 30.18

Whether it’s a Cuppa Jones coffee in the morning or a soft drink from a vending machine on the way to class, caffeine is a popular stimulant on campus.
But how much caffeine should we be consuming and from what should we be consuming it?
Melanie Schell, nutrition expert and BJU professor in the department of biology, said caffeine has both benefits and potential downsides in a person’s diet.
Schell said consumers receive caffeine naturally when drinking beverages such as coffee, tea and soft drinks.
“It is something that is not added to these beverages,” Schell said. “It is something that is naturally occurring in them.”
Since caffeine is a natural stimulant, Schell said caffeine is attractive to those who wish to limit the number of additives in their diets.
Schell said research shows that caffeine also increases concentration, and it can be a way to incorporate more calcium in a diet by adding milk or other dairy products to coffee and tea.
Schell said another benefit to caffeine is its antioxidant properties, which prevent disease in the body.
Although caffeine has many benefits, consumers should be careful in how they consume caffeine.
“Look for ways to add it to your diet without a lot of added sugars,” Schell said.
“That’s going to mean looking for brewed coffee that you can add sugar to yourself rather than designer coffee beverages like those of Starbucks with much added sugar.”
Schell said the recommended limit for caffeine intake per day is around 400 milligrams.
This limit will be reached after two to three cups of coffee and more caffeine becomes less beneficial.
Schell said too much caffeine might result in ill effects like restlessness, insomnia, a racing heartbeat, muscle tremors or headaches.
“These unpleasant side effects can be different for every person,” Schell said.
“Some people can have these side effects after just one or two cups of coffee, but for other people it might take a lot more. It just depends on how tolerant you are.”
Dehydration is a side effect of caffeine often not considered, Schell said.
Caffeine increases urine flow and can quickly dehydrate the body.
“For every cup of coffee you drink,” Schell said, “you should ideally be drinking a glass of water as well.”
For those who wish to reduce the amount of caffeine in their diets, Schell said gradually reducing caffeine intake is best.
“If you’re wanting to reduce the amount of caffeine in your diet, do it gradually,” Schell said.
“Don’t go from drinking three to four cups of coffee a day to drinking none. That’s not going to be very helpful.”
Schell said consumers who just enjoy the ritual of a hot drink may wish to switch to lower caffeine teas in place of coffee or try “half-caf,” a mix of half caffeinated beverage and half decaffeinated beverage.
“The key for caffeine is moderation,” Schell said, “just like any other product in our diets.”