Caffeine

Resource Information on Caffeinated Drinks – September 2012

YSC Policy

  • No Projects involving caffeinated foods or drinks permitted in subjects under 10 years of age.
  • 85 mg caffeine per day for subjects aged 10 to 12.
  • 200 mg caffeine per day for subjects aged 13 and older.
  • No experiments involving caffeinated drinks or foods are permitted with subjects under 10 years old.
  • Subjects 10 to 12 years old are allowed up to 85 mg/day (Health Canada guideline). This would permit tests using soft drinks.
  • Subjects  13 years of age and older are allowed up to 200 mg of caffeine per day as part of an experiment - this would be consistent with the "everyday foods" guideline, and would qualify as low risk.
  • This would allow tests with Coffee, Tea, Iced Coffee, Energy Drinks, and Soft Drinks.
  • Students are required to research and identify the approximate caffeine content of their beverages, using existing sources (many are now available).
  • This is also consistent with Health Canada labeling - "Not for Children" is indicated to specifically apply to youth aged under 13 (see below references).

 

Overview

  • Drinks with very high levels of caffeine are reported to, on rare occasions, cause adverse reactions, especially in youth that may have pre-existing conditions.
  • High caffeine drinks are popular under a segment called "energy drinks".
  • In Canada, Health Canada originally began considering Energy Drinks for a high level of regulation, but in 2011 new policies reduced this regulatory oversight.
  • Not all products marketed as "Energy Drinks" necessarily have very high levels of caffeine compared to other common food products.
  • Other products not marketed as "Energy Drinks" may have very high levels of caffeine.

Category Confusion

There are many segments to the beverage industry, with areas of overlap:

  • "Soft Drinks", or "pop", such as Coca Cola, Sprite, etc.
  • Brewed drinks, such as Coffee, Tea, Hot Chocolate
  • Flavoured Water
  • Vitamin/Enriched Water
  • Sports Drinks
  • Energy Drinks

For example, there is a product called "Glaceau Vitamin Water Energy Tropical Citrus", which even though categorized as an "Energy Drink", contains less than half the caffeine levels of some Soft Drinks.

Adding to confusion is that caffeine levels are rarely reported by beverage producers. Additionally, caffeine levels can vary greatly between similar products and different regions. For example, the soft drink "Mountain Dew" is one of the most highly caffeinated soft drinks in the US market, at 54 mg per can, but was previously caffeine free in the Canadian market due to pre-2012 regulations about caffeine in light-coloured drinks. The "Mugs" brand of Root Beer is caffeine free, while the "Barqs" brand is caffeinated.

Even when caffeine levels are reported, other ingredients in the beverage may provide natural caffeine that isn't included, or else they increase the absorption of caffeine by the body; in Energy Drinks "guarana" and "yerba mate" are two popular such ingredients.

Confusion is also caused by inconsistent serving sizes. A product such as the "5 hour Energy" "shot" drink provides over 200 mg of caffeine in a 60 ml serving, while a traditional Energy Drink such as "Red Bull" provides approximately 160 mg in a 450 ml serving. Tim Hortons recently increased their coffee cup sizes, making a 600 ml "large" cup a popular size; Tim Hortons reports the caffeine content of this size as 200 mg.[a]

Caffeine Content Examples

Most producers do not report caffeine content, and estimates can vary widely.

Beverage Serving Size Caffeine (mg)
Starbucks Brewed Coffee "Venti" US 600 ml 415 mg
Starbucks Brewed Coffee "Grande" US[b] 450 ml 330 mg
"5 Hour Energy" Shot 60 ml 207 mg
Tim Hortons Large Coffee 600 ml 200 mg
Red Bull / Rockstar / Monster Energy 450 ml 160 mg
Starbucks Iced White Choc Mocha[c] 450 ml 150 mg
Amp / Full Throttle Energy Drink[d] 450 ml 142 mg
Tim Hortons Large Steeped Tea 600 ml 110 mg
Mountain Dew single-serving bottle 600 ml 90 mg
Mountain Dew Can[e] 350 ml 54 mg
Diet Pepsi Can 350 ml 47 mg

Regulatory Environment

Prior to 2012, Health Canada regulations required that Energy Drinks be classified as "Natural Health Products". In late 2011 Health Canada proposed new regulations, with a transition period that will last up until December 2013.

Most significantly in the new regulation of Energy Drinks:

"Health Canada has determined, based on consumption patterns, history of use, representation to consumers, and in accordance with its guidance document on "Classification of Products at the Food-Natural Health Product Interface: Products in Food Formats", that products known as Energy Drinks fit the regulatory definition of a food and as such intends to classify these products as foods." [f] [g]

Notable elements of Health Canada's current guidance:

  • Drinks sold in containers up to 750ml are considered "single serving".
  • Definition: Energy drink products are pre-packaged; ready to consume water based caffeinated beverages with caffeine from all sources between 200 and 400 ppm (mg/L).[h]
  • Caffeinated energy drink labels will be required to include: (by December 2013):[i]
    • A Nutrition Facts Table like other prepackaged foods and beverages
    • Quantitative declaration of total caffeine content from all sources;
    • Qualitative declaration of caffeine ( "High caffeine content" or equivalent);
    • Quantitative declaration of selected bioactive ingredients (e.g. ginseng);
    • The following caution statements:
      • Do not consume more than (X) container(s)/serving(s) daily" or "Usage: (X) container(s)/serving(s) maximum daily";
      • "Not recommended for children, pregnant or breastfeeding women and individuals sensitive to caffeine"; and
      • "Do not mix with alcohol"
  • "Health Canada has not developed definitive advice for adolescents 13 and older because of insufficient data. Nonetheless, Health Canada suggests that daily caffeine intake for this age group be no more than 2.5 mg/kg body weight. This is because the maximum adult caffeine dose may not be appropriate for light weight adolescents or for younger adolescents who are still growing. The daily dose of 2.5 mg/kg body weight would not cause adverse health effects in the majority of adolescent caffeine consumers. This is a conservative suggestion since older and heavier weight adolescents may be able to consume adult doses of caffeine without suffering adverse effects."[j]
  • "A review undertaken by Health Canada scientists has considered the numerous studies dealing with caffeine and its potential health effects. It has re-confirmed that for the average adult, moderate daily caffeine intake at dose levels of 400 mg/day is not associated with any adverse effects. Data has shown, however, that women of childbearing age and children may be at greater risk from caffeine." [k]
  • Recommended Maximum Caffeine Intake Levels for Children and Women:
    • Children
      • 4 - 6 years 45 mg/day
      • 7 - 9 years 62.5 mg/day
      • 10 - 12 years 85 mg/day
    • Women who are planning to become pregnant, pregnant women and breast feeding mothers
      • 300 mg/day

Other Factors

  1. There have been no research studies identified by Health Canada or the FDA that indicate any serious health risks of caffeine consumption under 400 mg/day in consumers over the age of 12.
  2. While there is anecdotal evidence of occasional (though rare) severe adverse reactions of youth consuming highly caffeinated beverages, especially if they have pre-existing (though not yet know to them) prior conditions, nearly all of these examples also involve other factors such as alcohol, heat, or physical (athletic) stress. For example, a typical "usage scenario" of an energy drink would be for a youth to consume a can very quickly on a hot day after participating in a sporting activity. In contrast, a large Tim Hortons coffee, though containing more caffeine, would not be consumed in a similar manner.

 

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