Benefits of Cutting Back on Caffeine

By Emily Camacho

Whether you enjoy a warm cup of morning coffee or grab a mid-day caffeine pick-me-up, you’re in the majority if you consume some kind of caffeine each day. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, adults in the United States consume an average of 135 mg of caffeine daily which is about 1.5 cups of coffee.

Since the “U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers 400 milligrams (about four 8 oz cups of brewed coffee) a safe amount of caffeine for healthy adults to consume daily,” the average American actually drinks less than the suggested limit. But, everyone metabolizes caffeine differently, and you may notice negative side effects of overdoing caffeine—especially on days or weeks when you rely on a little extra for additional “energy”. 

Today, we’re digging into caffeine metabolism, which foods and drinks contain caffeine, the benefits of cutting back on caffeine, and some healthy substitutes to try.

Caffeine Metabolism 101

Humans metabolize caffeine rapidly—absorbing 99 percent via the GI tract within 45 minutes of ingestion. Once absorbed, caffeine is distributed throughout the body and across the blood-brain barrier where it blocks the action of a chemical called adenosine and promotes wakefulness. 

Enzymes called cytochrome P450 help to metabolize caffeine in your liver and people respond to it differently due to the variations in the genes that code for cytochrome P450. Some individuals have genes that allow them to metabolize and process caffeine quickly. Slow metabolizers, on the other hand, notice the stimulating impacts of caffeine more intensely and need to limit consumption since their bodies take longer to eliminate it. Other factors that impact caffeine breakdown include gender, race, specific medications, altitude, and smoking status.

Which Foods and Drinks Contain Caffeine?

Caffeine is found in drinks like coffee, tea, and espresso. It’s also present in soda and energy drinks. Here’s a quick breakdown of the caffeine content in standard-sized drinks:

  • 2 oz energy shot contains around 200 mg caffeine 
  • 16 oz of an energy drink (the standard size!) contains around 170 mg caffeine
  • 8 oz of brewed coffee contains around 95 mg caffeine
  • 1.5 oz of expresso contains around 65 mg caffeine
  • 8 oz of black tea contains around 47 mg caffeine
  • 12 oz of Coca Cola contains around 40 mg caffeine
  • 8 oz of green tea contains around 28 mg caffeine 

Caffeine is also present in foods like dark chocolate (about 24 mg per gram), guarana beans (turned into a powder or extract and used in drinks and supplements), coffee-containing foods (like ice cream), and even some brands of gum. Many supplements also contain caffeine.

Benefits of Cutting Back on Caffeine 

You don’t have to completely cut caffeine from your diet. There are some benefits to sipping small amounts of caffeine:

That being said, there is too much of a good thing, especially when it comes to caffeine. Limiting your intake may have some benefits:

  • Decreased anxiety: The boost of energy from caffeine can cause anxiety-like symptoms like jitters, nervousness, and heart palpitations.
  • Lower blood pressure: Caffeine may cause a spike in your blood pressure after consumption. For some people, this effect is short-lived. For others (and for chronic caffeine drinkers), this impact may be more long-term.
  • Pearly whites: Coffee can stain your teeth by seeping through the tiny pores in your tooth enamel. *Pro-tip: drink from a straw to avoid the unwanted teeth staining and brush your teeth ASAP after sipping.
  • Better sleep: Caffeine may impact your sleep-wake cycles and make it tougher to fall and stay asleep. This typically means less zzz’s, more sleepiness, and—as a result—a higher dependence on caffeine. Caffeine has a half-life of about 5 hours for a healthy individual. So, even if you think you’re giving yourself plenty of time before bed, that 2 pm pick-me-up could still impact your sleep.
  • Lower calorie intake: Sugary Starbucks lattes, Monster energy drinks, and Dunkin’ frappuccinos pack a calorie punch. Although we recommend staying away from these sugary, processed drinks regardless of the caffeine, it’s still important to be aware of how quickly caffeine-containing drinks add up. (Did you know that a standard Starbucks Latte contains around 220 calories?)
  • Saving money: You may think a local coffee shop pit stop on the way to work is no big deal. What’s $5.00 after all? But, if you drink coffee five days per week, 52 weeks per year, that’s $1,300 in coffee a year!

Other important reasons to cut back on caffeine may include pregnancy, breastfeeding, irregular heartbeat, and high blood pressure.

So, if you are noticing more jitteriness, you’re dealing with chronic or acute stress, your anxiety is high, or you’re having trouble falling and staying asleep, try cutting back on caffeine and assess how these symptoms change.

If none of these symptoms apply to you and you’re within the FDA recommendation of 400mg per day, you may not need to adjust a thing.

Related: The Surprising Truth About Your Coffee Habits 

How To Cut Back On Caffeine

Start by figuring out how much caffeine you consume each day. Then, assess where you want to be and cut back slowly if you think it’s worth your while.

There are a few things you can add to your routine to help you move away from relying on caffeine quite so much. 

  • Get more sunshine: The sun is a big source of Vitamin D. A few minutes of sun rays in the morning can help combat the fatigue you might feel as your roll out of bed. Sun exposure also helps correct wonky sleep patterns. 
  • Replace with decaf alternatives: Swap out that second cup of coffee for herbal tea, hot lemon water, or simply abig glass of water.
  • Sleep Deep: Make sure you are setting yourself up for success and consistently get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. When you’re better rested, you’re less likely to feel the need to sip caffeine several times a day.
  • Drink More: Staying hydrated can help boost your energy levels. Change up your water bottles, set a daily intake, and get after it! 
  • Sweat Often: Have you ever felt a jolt of energy after a workout or after a stroll around the block? When you work out, your body releases hormones such as epinephrine and norepinephrine. Although these are stress hormones – they energize you.
  • Love More: Having more sex can help you sleep better and releases feel-good hormones that boost overall energy.
  • Eat Empowered: Your diet can directly impact your energy levels. Eat more whole foods and cut out the processed junk. These energy-boosting foods are a great place to start.

Minimizing Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms

Headaches are one of the most commonly reported side effects of caffeine withdrawal due to caffeine’s vasoconstrictive effect. 

When you regularly consume caffeine, your blood vessels become accustomed to it. On the flip side, when you reduce caffeine, blood vessels widen. This reaction is significant because blood vessels tend to enlarge before the onset of certain types of headaches. Interesting! 

Focusing on the list above—hydration, sleep, and cutting back slowly—is your best bet at cutting back on caffeine and reducing withdrawal symptoms.

Healthier Caffeine Options 

Whether you’re trying to skip out on caffeine altogether or need some lower caffeine suggestions, we have some ideas for you.

These healthy hot drinks and wellness lattes are a delicious way to replace your cup of joe in the morning. Hot lemon water is also a fan favorite as an AM drink to help boost energy levels, sans caffeine.

There are also easy switches you can make to lower your caffeine intake. For example, switch to one espresso shot mixed with steamed milk (~65 mg caffeine) instead of a full cup of coffee (~95 mg for 8 oz). 

That is what it is all about, right? Healthier switches to help you live your most Nutritious Life. As most people will notice positive side-effects from cutting back on caffeine (even if you’re not technically overdoing it), we recommend giving it a try and seeing how you feel!

(Image: Shutterstock)

About Emily Camacho
Emily is a Certified Certified Working Against Gravity Nutrition Coach. As a teacher and a nutrition coach, Emily found her calling to help people through their journey to find a nutrition approach that works for them and their lifestyle.

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