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Keeping fit 24 Feb 2017

Coffee: Friend or foe?

Cutting down on caffeine

Coffee machine

The appetite for coffee is steadily increasing, with boutique offerings and branded chains serving up short macchiatos, long blacks and everything in between to caffeine fans around the world. But when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, what should you know about your daily dose?

According to the International Coffee Organization (ICO), the international demand for coffee will increase by nearly 25% by 20201. However, conflicting reports of how caffeine consumption can impact your health can be confusing.

Research carried out in 2016 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – a group of international cancer experts convened by the World Health Organisation (WHO) – found no strong evidence that coffee increases your chances of cancer2. But, unsurprisingly to many coffee drinkers, too much caffeine can cause short-term symptoms including heart palpitations, insomnia and dizziness3.

"In moderation, coffee shouldn’t do you any harm,” says Luke Powles, Bupa dietician and health coach. “Caffeine is a stimulant and acts on the central nervous system, increasing heart rate, which in turn can make you feel more energised and alert."

However, Luke also notes: "Excessive consumption can cause problems, as it can affect your sleep and cause dehydration, headaches, irritability, anxiety, stomach issues and light-headedness. It is important to be mindful that some caffeinated drinks also contain a lot of sugar, which poses its own risks to staying healthy when taken in excess."

How much is too much?

In 2015, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published its Scientific Opinion on the Safety of Caffeine, stating that adults consuming up to 400mg of caffeine per day – and single doses of 200mg – should not be exposed to safety concerns4.

However, it’s important to remember that caffeine is not confined to coffee, as your total daily consumption is also made up from soft drinks, energy drinks and tea, as well as chocolate.

A mug of instant of coffee contains around 100mg, while a mug of filtered coffee contains around 140mg of caffeine. If you’re also taking in energy drinks, be aware that there’s about 80mg of caffeine in a 250mL can, and some smaller 'energy shots' can contain anywhere from 80mg to 160mg of caffeine in a 60mL bottle5.

The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) recommends that pregnant women should have no more than 200mg of caffeine a day6, as high levels of caffeine might cause miscarriage and can result in babies having a low birth weight, which can increase the risk of health problems in later life.

"It’s important to remember that caffeine is not confined to coffee, as your total daily consumption is also made up from soft drinks, energy drinks and tea, as well as chocolate."


Older woman holding a cup

Consuming caffeine carefully

While making us feel alert and awake, caffeine consumption can have several positive effects:

  • Drinking a cup of coffee about 20 to 30 minutes before exercise can allow you to exercise for up to 30% longer7.
  • A 75mg serving of caffeine can lead to both increased attention and alertness, according to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)8.

However, research also shows that coffee consumption can lead to a restless night’s sleep, and Luke explains that it’s important to think about how much caffeine you drink, as well as when you’re drinking it. As caffeine is a stimulant, it makes sense to avoid drinking it too close to bedtime. While it varies from person to person, Luke recommends people try to "avoid drinking caffeinated drinks at least six hours before going to bed".

Cutting down on caffeine

Over time, bodies can become used to and dependent upon caffeine, so you have to drink more to get the same 'wake-up call' feeling. If you are keen to curb your intake, exploring alternatives could be a great way to find another favourite drink, while keeping caffeine levels within the recommended daily guidelines.

Luke suggests trying "low-in-caffeine hot drinks, like black tea and green tea, and caffeine-free beverages like rooibos, herbal teas, infusions and dandelion coffee".

Being aware of how much caffeine you drink means you can still enjoy your favourite beverages while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Tips for a productive flight infographic


1. Time ( ), last accessed in February 2017

2. International Agency for Research on Cancer, WHO ( ), last accessed in February 2017

3. Caffeine Informer (, last accessed in February 2017

4. Coffee and Health (, last accessed in January 2017

5. Food Standards Agency (, last accessed in February 2017

6. NHS (, last accessed in February 2017

7. Ruxton, C.H.S. The impact of caffeine on mood, cognitive function, performance and hydration: a review of benefits and risks, British Nutrition Foundation Nutrition Bulletin, Volume 33, 2008

8. EFSA NDA Panel (EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies), 2014. Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of a health claim related to caffeine and increased alertness pursuant to Article 13(5) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. EFSA Journal 2014;12(2):3574, 16 pp. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2014.3574

The Blueroom, Bupa Australia (, last accessed in February 2017

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