Healthier Ways to Get Your Caffeine

The best ways to get your boost

6 min read

If my husband doesn't drink some by 10 a.m., he can expect a man-sized headache by early afternoon. My best friend can't speak in full sentences until they get theirs. I'm talking about coffee, of course! But the real addiction here is to the caffeine IN coffee, not coffee itself.

My husband is a two-mugs-a-day drinker, so it's not like he's guzzling java all day long. Still, his body is dependent on the caffeine kick from those two mugs. As long as he gets one cup of coffee in the a.m., he's generally headache-free. Trust me; I've spent many a morning on vacation tracking down a coffee source for him.

The truth is that there are lots of ways to get your caffeine fix. Some of the people chugging down those Big Gulps all afternoon may be in it for the caffeine. Another popular way to get caffeine is tea, hot or iced. A can of diet cola (or similar) will give you around 42 milligrams of caffeine, while a cup of hot tea usually has almost 50 milligrams.

I'm afraid eating chocolate can't compete with the caffeine power of a cup of Joe. Even a 2-ounce chocolate bar has only 36 milligrams of caffeine -- a drop in the bucket for hard-core espresso drinkers! Not that caffeine is the main reason people eat chocolate, but be warned that getting your caffeine fix in the form of chocolate is going to cost you in calories! Two ounces of chocolate will run you approximately 270 calories and 16 grams of fat.

Here's a chart of some common caffeine sources and exactly how much of a wallop each packs:

Caffeine Sources
Approximate Caffeine Content (mg)
Coffee, regular (1 cup)
Espresso (1/4 cup)
Cappuccino, regular (1 cup)
Latte, regular (1 cup)
Tea, brewed, hot (1 cup)
Nestea Iced Tea, Earl Grey (1 cup)
Cola soda, regular or diet (12 oz)
Mountain Dew (12 oz)
Chocolate, semisweet (1 oz)
Chocolate milk (1 cup)
Cocoa powder (1 tablespoon)

If you asked people what the biggest benefit to caffeine is, most would probably list the lift in energy and mood. But there may be other health benefits to caffeine, as well as to other components in coffee and tea. (All you veteran java junkies should note that some of caffeine's effects may lessen with long-term consumption.)

Here's what research has found out about some of the possible benefits of coffee, tea, and caffeine:

  • Some researchers suggest that the caffeine in coffee may increase the body's sensitivity to insulin. (This is a good thing; insulin is a hormone made by the body to control blood sugar.) In fact, a recent review of nine studies on coffee consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes supports the idea that habitual coffee consumption is associated with a lower risk of the disease. Other research has found that some compounds in tea may increase insulin activity in fat cells by as much as 15 times. Still, other research has reported that caffeine impairs the metabolism of glucose (a type of sugar found in carbohydrate foods) in people with type 2 diabetes.
  • Chlorogenic acid, a compound in coffee that has antioxidant activity, may improve the body's metabolism of glucose.
  • Drinking four or more cups of coffee a day has been linked to a reduced risk of colon cancer (compared with drinking no coffee at all). Studies in animals have indicated that an antioxidant in coffee may protect against colon cancer.
  • Studies looking at coffee and heart disease risk are all over the map. One study found that drinking two or fewer cups of coffee a day reduced the chance of a first heart attack or chest pain, while drinking more coffee appeared to have the opposite effect. Other study results differed. Future research should pay attention to the type of coffee used and the different brewing methods because this affects which compounds show up in your cup. For example, filtered coffee removes two compounds that are known to raise both total and LDL "bad" cholesterol levels (the filters trap these compounds).
  • Tea contains powerful antioxidants (polyphenols, which are in the flavonoid phytochemical family) that may help protect against cancer, heart disease, and stroke. A Dutch study found that men who ate and drank the most flavonoids (black tea was the major source) had a much lower risk of heart disease.
  • Preliminary research suggests that the flavonoids in green tea may help reduce cancer risk.
  • More research is needed on this, but it has been suggested that green tea may help boost metabolism and lower body fat.
  • According to one study, older women (aged 65-76) who drank tea had higher bone mineral density measurements than women who did not drink tea. The authors propose that the compounds in tea may improve bone mineral density and that drinking tea may protect against osteoporosis. By comparison, another study noted that consuming more than 300 mg of caffeine per day sped up bone loss in the spines of postmenopausal women aged 65-77.
  • While fruits and vegetables are thought to be the richest sources of health-promoting antioxidants, a recent study found that coffee is the main source from which most Americans get their antioxidants.

1. Freshly Brewed Tea Is Tops

If you haven't tried tea lately, give it a second look. There are so many flavorful types available now, even at the grocery store. And when it comes to phytochemicals, freshly brewed is best! Bottled teas apparently have less than freshly brewed tea.

2. Make Mine Iced

Iced tea is a great summer sipper, as long as it isn't sweetened. I've found that nicely flavored iced tea doesn't need any sweeteners at all. And you can turn any hot tea into iced tea just by chilling a pitcher in the refrigerator after it's brewed. If you like your iced tea with a touch of sweetness, try a packet of an artificial sweetener like Equal.

3. Pump up the Protein and Calcium

Make sure your caffeine fix doesn't fill your diet with extra calories. The fancier the coffee drink, the bigger the calorie and fat totals. Asking for nonfat milk in your latte and other coffee drinks brings down the calories and fat while pumping up the protein and calcium. For example, a "tall" Starbucks Iced Café Mocha made with whole milk has 170 calories and 6 grams of fat, while the same drink with nonfat milk has 130 calories and 1.5 grams of fat.

4. Watch Out for Chai Lattes!

They contain extra calories from milk and sugar. There are some light chai lattes out there, however. If you're ordering one at a coffee bar, opt for nonfat milk and artificial sweetener.

5. Diet Soft Drinks Save Calories

The caffeine in your average 12-ounce cola rivals the amount in a cup of tea: 42 and 47 milligrams, respectively. But getting your caffeine fix this way can add up to 140 calories a can, if you choose regular sweetened sodas! That said, even though diet sodas will help keep those beverage calories down, I think it's best to drink them in moderation. I try to keep my intake to one can a day.