How To Identify Hidden Sources of Caffeine


We all know that our morning coffee contains caffeine, and so does black tea. However, how sure are you about the rest of the foods and beverages that you consume daily? Do you actually know your daily caffeine intake or are you - like many people - assuming that your decaf coffee, your orange soda, and your green tea do not contain caffeine? The average adult consumes approximately 200 mg of caffeine per day - make sure you know where your caffeine is coming from!

  1. Read the ingredients. This is not a foolproof way to determine if a food or beverage contains caffeine, however. Food manufacturers only have to list caffeine as an ingredient when it has been added to the product. If caffeine is naturally occurring - such as in chocolate and black tea - they are not required to list it. In addition, the amount of caffeine is not required to be on the label - so you might not have any idea how much caffeine you are actually consuming.

  2. Understand that "decaf" does not mean "without caffeine." Some very common, but hidden, sources of caffeine include decaffeinated beverages. Decaffeinated coffee, tea, or soft drinks contain less caffeine than is usual for those drinks, but still contain detectable amounts of caffeine. The amount varies from brand to brand, but most brands of decaffeinated coffee have anywhere from 8 to 14 mg of caffeine per serving. Although this is less than the normal 85 mg of caffeine in caffeinated coffee, it can still add up and cause dependence. In addition, many people are sensitive to even very small amounts of caffeine, experiencing anxiety, agitation, and increased heart rate and blood pressure with the amount of caffeine in just one cup of decaf coffee.

  3. Check the labels on all soft drinks - not just colas. Caffeinated soft drinks have been around since the 1880s! We all know that Coca-Cola and Pepsi contain caffeine, but many other sodas do as well. Although many people assume that "clear" sodas do not contain caffeine, Mountain Dew contains more caffeine than Pepsi or Coke, and Sunkist Orange soda has almost as much caffeine as a normal cola. Root beer doesn't usually contain caffeine, but there are brands with caffeine added, so you should always check the list of ingredients.

  4. Remember that chocolate contains caffeine! Possibly because we are accustomed to getting our caffeine from beverages, we often forget that chocolate is a hidden source of caffeine. Although white chocolate contains no caffeine, milk and dark chocolate can contain significant amounts of caffeine. This goes for food that contains chocolate as well: brownies, chocolate beverages, hot chocolate, chocolate ice cream, chocolate cookies, and chocolate pie all contain varying amounts of caffeine.

  5. Watch out for coffee flavoring. Other hidden sources of caffeine can include coffee-flavored food. Coffee yogurt, coffee ice cream, and iced coffee-flavored drinks all tend to contain caffeine! In fact, a 6-ounce container of coffee flavored yogurt can contain as much caffeine as a 12-ounce Coca-Cola: about 36 mg.

  6. Educate yourself about guarana. The herbal stimulant guarana is a natural and hidden source of caffeine that has become a common ingredient in energy drinks, along with regular caffeine and other herbal stimulants. In fact, an energy drink containing guarana can actually have almost 260 mg of caffeine in it!!

  7. Look for other herbal stimulants containing caffeine. In addition to guarana, yerba mate and kola nuts are sources of caffeine. Tea made with the yerba mate plant often proclaims that it has no added caffeine - but says nothing about the naturally occurring caffeine in yerba mate! Kola nuts are popular in many West African cultures and can be found in some beverages.

  8. Check your medication labels. Some medications include caffeine, especially daytime cold medicines, headache remedies, and diet pills. Watch these hidden sources of caffeine carefully, as you may not be aware of the caffeine content of medications!

  9. Wait patiently for your own personal caffeine testing system! In the chemistry department of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, chemists are working on a home testing kit for caffeine. They hope that test strips will soon be available to detect the presence and amount of caffeine, so that you do not have to depend upon nutrition labels.

  10. Check the caffeine content online. Websites such as EnergyFiend list the caffeine content of different foods and beverages so that you can make sure that you are not receiving any hidden sources of caffeine.

  11. Don't worry too much if you have a moderate caffeine intake. Health professionals generally define a "moderate" caffeine intake as being around 250 to 300 mg per day, or around 2 to 4 cups of coffee, depending on the method in which it is prepared. However, if you consume much more than that amount, you could begin to notice symptoms such as headaches, restlessness, insomnia, irritability, an increase in heart rate, stomach problems, and even an increased chance of panic attacks.

Although opinions differ regarding the long-term effects of caffeine on the body, nobody should have to ingest caffeine when they do not want to. Make sure you know the most common hidden sources of caffeine, only consuming them when you are fully aware of what they contain!


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