Chemical Cuisine Rating

Certain people should avoid

Purpose: Supplement, stimulant

Health Concerns: Neurological & Behavioral, Risks to Pregnant People, Bone

Found in: Naturally occurring in coffee, tea, cocoa, coffee-flavored yogurt and frozen desserts; Additive in soft drinks, energy drinks, chewing gum, and waters


Caffeine is one of only two drugs that are present naturally or added to widely consumed foods (quinine is the other drug used in foods). It is mildly addictive, one possible reason that makers of soft drinks add it to their products. Many coffee drinkers experience withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, irritability, sleepiness, and lethargy, when they stop drinking coffee.

Because caffeine appears to increase the risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes, including miscarriages, preterm delivery, stillbirth, and childhood leukemia (and possibly birth defects) and inhibits fetal growth, women who are pregnant or may become pregnant should avoid caffeine. Caffeine also may make it harder to get pregnant. The less those women consume, the lower the risk.

Caffeine also keeps many people from sleeping, causes jitteriness, and affects calcium metabolism. However, on the positive side, drinking a couple of mugs cups per day of regular (but not decaf) coffee appears to reduce the risk of Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, gallstones, and even suicide. It also can relieve headache pain, increase endurance, such as on a treadmill, and improve alertness.

The caffeine in a standard cup or two of coffee is harmless to most people. But be aware that a middle-size (16 oz.) cup of regular coffee at popular coffeehouses contains 300 or more milligrams of caffeine. That is equivalent to three old-fashioned 5-ounce-cups' worth of caffeine. A 12-oz. can of Coca-Cola or most other caffeinated soft drinks contains about 35 to 40 milligrams; energy drinks typically contain much more. Click here for a list of the caffeine content of beverages and foods. If you drink more than a couple of cups of coffee or several cans of caffeine-containing soda per day and experience insomnia or jitters, are at risk of osteoporosis, or are pregnant, you should rethink your habit.

See our comprehensive Chemical Cuisine ratings of more than 150 food ingredients and additives.

Caffeine Chart

How much caffeine is in my Dunkin'?

Exactly how much caffeine is there in the food and beverages you consume? CSPI charts the findings.

Check your caffeine

Is that ingredient safe? Check Chemical Cuisine.

CSPI ranks the safety of food additives—from acetic acid to yellow prussiate of soda—in this definitive glossary of the chemicals used to flavor and preserve our foods.

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