Caffeine, a mild stimulant, has been part of the human diet for centuries. As far back as five thousand years ago, records suggest that the Chinese were brewing tea. About twenty-five hundred years ago, highly valued coffee beans were used in Africa as currency. And in the Americas, the Aztecs enjoyed chocolate drinks. Today, caffeine-containing foods and beverages are a growing part of our food pattern. Does coffee in the morning go with your "wakeup" routine?
A naturally occurring substance in plants, caffeine is found in leaves, seeds, and fruits of more than sixty plants, among them coffee and cocoa beans, tea leaves, and kola nuts. We consume these products as coffee, chocolate, tea, and cola drinks. Caffeine also is used in more than a thousand over-the-counter drugs as well as in prescription drugs, and as a subtle flavoring.
Coffee remains the chief source of caffeine in the United States. That includes drinks made with coffee, such as latte, mocha, and cappuccino. The amount of caffeine depends on the type of coffee, the amount, the brewing method, and whether it's caffeinated.
Soft drinks and teas are the main sources of caffeine for children and teens. Among soft drinks, cola isn't the only beverage with caffeine; some citrus-flavored beverages contain caffeine as well.
Caffeine acts as a mild stimulant to the central nervous system. That's why some people drink coffee: to keep alert and prevent fatigue. Does caffeine improve physical performance? See chapter 19.
Caffeine: A Health Connection?
Over the years many studies have explored the connection between caffeine and health. No scientific evidence has been found to link caffeine intake to any health risks, including cancer (pancreatic, breast, or other types), fibrocystic breast disease (benign fibrous lumps), cardiovascular disease, blood cholesterol levels, ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease, infertility, birth defects, or osteoporosis.
Concerned about your blood pressure? Caffeine doesn't cause hypertension or a lasting increase in blood pressure. However, it may cause a temporary rise that lasts only a few hours and adds up to less than the rise from climbing stairs.
Caffeine may have a mild diuretic effect, increasing water loss through urination. However, the fluid in the beverage usually cancels any loss. The diuretic effect depends on the amount of caffeine. Caffeinated drinks won't cause dehydration or electrolyte imbalance, either. If you have trouble with diarrhea, avoiding caffeine might be advised.
While caffeine can increase slightly the amount of calcium lost through urine and feces, it's the amount of calcium in about 1 tablespoon of milk that's lost for each cup of regular coffee. To help counter this effect and boost the calcium benefit, enjoy coffee drinks made with plenty of milk. A 12-ounce caffe latte, made with fat-free milk and no added syrups or whipped cream, has about 400 milligrams of calcium and 110 calories. Moderate amounts of caffeine don't appear to raise the risk for osteoporosis. By the way, you don't need to use whole milk to get a foam on cappuccino. Low-fat or fat-free milk and soy beverage also will do the trick.
Chic coffee drinks? Shots of caramel, chocolate, fruit syrups, or cream can load coffee bar beverages (lattes, mochas, cappuccinos, or other drinks) with plenty of added sugars, total fat, saturated fat, and calories. The larger the size, the more calories they rack up! If you can customize your coffee drink, make it healthier. Ask for the smallest size. Request fat-free milk (no or less whipped cream) or soy beverage, and perhaps sugar-free syrup or a dusting of cocoa powder or cinnamon. Bottled coffee drinks may not have as much calcium as you think—and perhaps more added sugars and calories; read the Nutrition Facts.
Although many think coffee can help "sober up" someone who drinks too much alcohol, caffeine won't counteract the effects of alcoholic drinks. Neither will a cold shower or a long walk. Only time can make someone sober.
In varying degrees, excessive caffeine intake may cause "coffee jitters," anxiety, or insomnia. Caffeine also may speed heart rate temporarily. These physical effects don't last long since caffeine doesn't accumulate in the body. Within three to four hours, most is excreted in healthy people; for smokers, it's slightly faster. Some people are more caffeine sensitive than others.
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