Caffeine and kids

Coffee is OK -- in moderation

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The first time my son, Sam, ordered an Americano in a restaurant, he was 14. I had no idea he liked coffee — he never drank it at home.

Turns out he and several of his friends were regulars at a local coffee shop.

Is it OK for kids to drink caffeinated beverages? Yes, with some limits, says Toronto dietitian Elke Sengmueller.

Health Canada recommends teens consume no more that 100 milligrams of caffeine a day. That translates to less than one cup of coffee (depending on the brew), two cans of cola or one energy drink. (For 10- to 12-year-olds, the limit is 85 milligrams a day.) But tolerance for caffeine varies, says Sengmueller. “Caffeine is not unsafe in moderate amounts, but a person who is sensitive to it, or who drinks caffeine only occasionally, may feel the effects — insomnia, anxiety, irritability, jitters, headaches, even a rapid heartbeat — more strongly.”

Here’s how to help your teen keep her caffeine consumption in check:

Limit caffeine to mornings It’s a notorious sleep thief, says Sengmueller. Kids often have trouble falling asleep early enough to get the nine or 10 hours they need before getting up for school; caffeine can exacerbate the problem.

A recent study in the journal Pediatrics suggests a link between teenagers’ use of technology and higher rates of caffeine consumption. Researchers found that teens were up late texting and chatting online, and relying on caffeine to stay awake at school the next day.

Bottom line: Have caffeinated beverages in moderation and early in the day.

Not at mealtime “What’s the caffeine replacing?” asks Sengmueller. If they’re choosing pop, tea and coffee instead of healthier drinks — or skipping meals in favour of a double-double — they’re losing out nutritionally. “Too much caffeine interferes with iron absorption, which can be an issue for menstruating girls, and it can leach calcium from the bones,” says Sengmueller, “especially when consumed with a meal.”

Bottom line: Drink tea or coffee an hour before, or after, meals.

Avoid hidden sources “I find a lot of people don’t realize green tea contains caffeine,” says Sengmueller. “Ingredients in beverages, such as guarana and yerba mate, are sources of caffeine, but the label may not tell you that.”

Energy drinks (not to be confused with sports drinks like Gatorade) not only contain high doses of caffeine, but can actually be dehydrating if consumed excessively. Health Canada considers Red Bull Energy Drink a “health product” and advises consumers to follow the label instructions to not exceed two cans a day.

Bottom line: Teach kids to read labels, know their limit and watch for ingredients that add caffeine.

Model moderation “Caffeine is an addictive substance and should be used in moderation,” says Sengmueller. If we set a good example, it’s more likely our kids will follow it. But people — teens and adults — do sometimes develop a dependence on caffeine.

Bottom line: “If you suspect your child has developed a dependence on caffeine, reduce consumption gradually to minimize withdrawal effects,” says Sengmueller. And try substitutes — an herbal iced tea in the summer or a cup of hot chocolate made with milk on a cold winter morning.

How much caffeine?

brewed coffee 1 cup (250 mL) 135 mg, filter drip coffee 1 cup (250 mL) 179 mg, instant coffee 1 cup (250 mL) 76–106 mg, decaffeinated coffee 1 cup (250 mL) 3–5 mg, black tea 1 cup (250 mL) 43 mg, green tea 1 cup (250 mL) 30 mg, cola regular 12 oz (355 mL) 36–46 mg, cola diet 12 oz (355 mL) 39–50 mg, Red Bull 8.3 oz (245 mL) 80 mg, milk chocolate 1 oz (28 g) 7 mg, dark chocolate 1 oz (28 g) 19 mg, hot cocoa from mix 1 cup (250 mL) 5 mg, chocolate milk 1 cup (250 mL) 8 mg

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