Turns out that it may be more than you think, especially if you’re a big Starbucks person.
Don’t get me wrong – I love Starbucks. I drink their brewed coffee (I’m a bold or “dark roast” guy) two times a day just about everyday. I’ve got my Gold Rewards Card loaded up on my iPhone so I can check out with my Starbucks app without ever having to pull out my wallet (yes, I’m that guy). I love the taste of their coffee and especially the high caffeine content. As someone who doesn’t sleep nearly enough (and I know I’m not alone), a Venti to wake me up in the morning and a Tall or Grande after lunch to get me through the afternoon has become part of my daily routine. My day feels off if I deviate.
But the question is, by doing this, how much caffeine am I actually consuming on a daily basis?
I had no idea, at least not until I checked out the nutritional information on the Starbucks website last night. And when I did, I was actually kind of shocked – a Venti “Bold Pick of the Day” has some 415 mg of caffeine. That’s a ton! A Grande has 330 mg and a Tall has 260 mg, both of which are quite high for their sizes.
How do I know? According to a very helpful post from Greatist last week called “How Much Is To Much Caffeine?”, most people should consume no more than 500 mg of caffeine per day. This was the first time I’ve come across an actual suggested daily limit for milligrams of caffeine consumed per day (largely because I haven’t bothered to look it up). Greatist also provides a helpful benchmark to allow you to gauge your own daily caffeine consumption, saying that two cups of strong coffee contains about 200 mg of caffeine. So I thought to myself: “Okay, cool, so that means I can consume about 5 cups of strong coffee a day. There’s no way I’m consuming more than that right now.”
But then I remembered that a cup is technically just 8 oz, and a Venti is much larger than that – it turns out that a Venti cup holds 20 oz (I had thought it was 16). So that means that I’m consuming 2 and a half cups each morning, which would equal about 250 mg of caffeine based on Greatist’s benchmark. Quite a bit, but still not that bad.
However, Starbucks coffee is MUCH stronger than a “strong” cup of coffee (this is pretty obvious to anyone who’s tried it, and it’s actually why a lot of people like it, including yours truly). So instead of consuming 250 mg of caffeine each morning, I was consuming more like 415 mg (according to the nutritional info on their website as cited above), and that was just in the morning! When you tack on a Tall or Grande in the afternoon, that would put me at something like 675 mg or 745 mg for the day. Over 700 mg a day! Well above the 500 mg suggested daily limit.
So okay, this means that I’m consuming more than the recommended max each day. But maybe this isn’t so bad - Greatist very clearly points out that the daily limit can vary wildly from person to person. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others, and it also depends a lot on your diet and exercise habits. Also, your body gets used to caffeine over time so if you’ve been drinking a lot for a while, your body could very well be able to handle something like 700 mg per day.
So maybe 700 mg is okay for me personally, but how do I know for sure? What if I am consuming too much caffeine, and I just don’t realize it?
Unfortunately, it’s hard to ever definitively know the answer to these questions. Many of the symptoms of excessive caffeine consumption are subtle, difficult to measure, and hard to attribute to caffeine directly. According to the Mayo Clinic, the negative effects of heavy daily caffeine use (which they peg at 500 to 600 mg per day) are the following:
- Stomach upset
- Fast heartbeat
- Muscle tremors
Luckily, I can safely rule out most of these issues, but what about things like insomnia, irritability, and anxiety that are more difficult to measure? I’ve never been a good sleeper, but I attribute this largely to an overactive imagination, not excessive caffeine consumption. But what if too much caffeine is making it even more difficult for me to sleep than it otherwise would be?
Irritability is another one. While I tend to think I’m a fairly easy-going person in general (perhaps my coworkers would disagree), I do feel like I’ve been a bit more irritable as of late, which syncs up pretty well with this two cup a day routine that has become the new norm for me. Have I been more irritable lately? How would I know? And how would I know if it’s because of excessive caffeine consumption?
It’s really hard to say, and the only way to answer questions like these is to try different things out for yourself – I need to try drinking less coffee for a while and see if I sleep better and become less irritable. Since everyone is different, this is really all you can do in cases like these – experiment and see what works for you.
But since there are so many other factors involved in things like insomnia and irritability, I’ll probably never have a definitive answer. And in the absence of knowing for sure, I tend to think that what’s recommended for most people should probably apply to me (no matter how special I may think I am…). So I’m going to change my habits and try to get down to more like 500 mg per day. From now on, I’m going to go with a Grande in the morning and a Tall in the afternoon. Maybe I’ll even try skipping the Tall on some days.
All of this being said, I don’t want to suggest that I think coffee is bad for you. Quite the contrary actually. Based on everything I’ve read, coffee is GREAT for you – it has lots of antioxidants, it can prevent disease and cancer, it can relieve pain (how good is a cup of coffee when you’ve got a little bit of a hangover?), it’s been linked to improved memory recall, it can speed up your metabolism, and it has obvious alertness and endurance benefits. Check out these three posts if you don’t believe me:
- Why Coffee & Tea Are Amazing for You (infographic) - Greatist
- Can Coffee Save Your Life? - The Daily Beast
- How Coffee Can Galvanize Your Workout - NY Times Well Blog
But even if coffee has all of these health benefits, too much caffeine can be problematic for the reasons cited above. So as with everything, moderation is key. I’m going to give that a try for a while and see what happens. I’ll let you know how it goes!
What do you think – is too much caffeine bad for you? Have you had any experience with excessive caffeine consumption? We’d love to hear about it in the comments.
* This is not actually on the Mayo Clinic’s list but is closely related to the other symptoms and is cited as a negative in the Greatist article referenced above and this MSNBC.com article.