Caffeine is present in most colas and energy drinks, with the latter becoming increasingly popular. A drink that claims to enhance physical and mental performance has resulted in almost three-quarters of 16 to 24-year-olds using high caffeine drinks, with two-thirds claiming they do so to help with work or studies. This consumer group has been specifically targeted by energy drinks companies through their use of brand names, music festivals and action sports to promote their products.15,16
The increase in energy drink consumption amongst younger people is worrying as, if consumed regularly, caffeine can lead to addiction. Caffeine is also associated with a range of other health effects such as insomnia, nervousness, headaches and heart palpitations. The degree to which these symptoms are felt depends on the individual, with children being particularly sensitive.17
There is also an increase in the use of energy drinks as alcoholic mixers, sometimes with fatal consequences. The link between energy drink mixers, ‘wide awake drunkenness’ and deaths has lead to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issuing a health warning against four energy drink manufacturers in America,18 pre-mixed energy drinks being banned in Mexico and Washington state, and Mexico issuing an 18-years age limit on purchasing energy drinks – the same as for alcohol.19
Regulating the boost
Caffeine levels found within energy drinks are usually several times higher than those found within ordinary colas (see table below). These levels have been criticised by health professionals who claim that they pose a caffeine intoxication risk – particularly for caffeine sensitive individuals such as young teenagers. The regulation of caffeine in drinks varies from country to country. In the US, energy drinks are generally classified as dietary supplements, resulting in them being exempt from the caffeine limits imposed on soft drinks (71 mg per 355 ml serving).20,21
In the UK, drinks containing more than 15 mg per 100 ml must be labelled with the term ‘high caffeine content’, which must be accompanied by a stated amount of caffeine per 100ml in the product.22
Caffeine content of colas and energy drinks
Key to the table
An average 148 ml cup of ground coffee contains 85 mg of caffeine (that’s 57 mg of caffeine per 100 ml).1 (This caffeine content of course depends on type of coffee used and time left to brew!) A can of Rockstar Super Sours contains nearly twice as much caffeine.
Caffeine content data was collected in June 2013 from the Energy Fiend website. In addition, we contacted companies and searched their websites.
BB = listed as a Best Buy in our cola product guide or energy drinks product guide.
No information about Free & Easy Cola could be found, and their parent company did not respond to a phone call or email.
Reference: 1 Food and Chemical Toxicology Vol 34, Issue 1: Caffeine consumption: J.J. Barone, H.R. Roberts, January 1996, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0278691595000933