Your mom says not to drink soda at night because the caffeine will keep you awake. And she says she "needs her caffeine" in the morning when she's reaching for her cup of coffee. So what is caffeine, anyway?
Caffeine Is a Common Chemical
Caffeine (say: KA-feen) is a natural chemical found in tea leaves, coffee beans, cacao (the stuff used to make chocolate), and kola nuts (the plant that gives cola soda its flavor). Caffeine has been in foods that humans eat and drink for hundreds of years. Today, caffeine is found in many common foods and drinks, such as coffee, tea, energy drinks, hot cocoa, soda, chocolate, and some medicines.
Caffeine is a stimulant (say: STIM-yuh-lunt). Stimulants make us feel more awake and alert. Many people have drinks with caffeine because they think it helps them to wake up and feel sharper. But no one needs caffeinated (say: KA-fuh-nay-ted) drinks, especially kids. The best drinks for kids are water and milk, which don't contain caffeine.
People who drink caffeine every day may start to depend on it. If regular caffeine users don't get their daily dose, look out! People who are used to caffeine and don't get it can have headaches or trouble focusing, and feel tired or grumpy all day long.
What Does Caffeine Do to Your Body?
Caffeine can make you feel hyper. Caffeine may boost a person's energy, but a lot of caffeine can also cause other, not-so-great effects. Too much caffeine can:
- make you feel nervous or jumpy. Your hands may shake.
- make it hard to fall asleep, which might mean you won't be able to pay attention in school the next day
- give you a stomachache, headache, or racing heartbeats. In fact, kids with heart problems should not drink caffeine.
Do You Need Caffeine?
Caffeine isn't a nutrient, like calcium, so you don't need it. Kids under 12 should probably skip the caffeine altogether. Teens should not get more than about 100 mg (about 1 cup of coffee) a day.
Here's how much caffeine is in common foods and drinks.
*This is an average amount of caffeine. That means some of these products may contain a little more caffeine; some may contain a little less.
Sources: U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and National Soft Drink Association
Cutting the Caffeine
If you'd like to cut down on caffeine, talk with your parents. They can help you understand how much you're getting and help you cut down.
Check the ingredient list on the label and choose caffeine-free or decaf drinks. If you don't, you might find yourself tossing and turning instead of snoozing and snoring!