Caffeine in carbonated beverages

Caffeine doesn't bother me. I seem to be able to drink it at bedtime and then go right to sleep. But there are a lot of people caffeine does bother. A lot. So how much caffeine is in various foodstuffs, like carbonated beverages, is a matter of interest. It is added intentionally for its CNS stimulating effect. In other words, it's a drug. The fact there is caffeine in the product is on the label but the amount isn't.

Colas, pepper-like beverages and citrus beverages usually or often contain caffeine. A paper published ahead of print in the Journal of Food Science shows there is huge variation in caffeine content but also some general rules of thumb:

Most national brands were found to be higher in caffeine content than store brands. In addition, citrus beverages were found to contain the highest caffeine levels compared to other categories. Diet sodas contained higher levels of the compound compared to their regular counterparts.


The researchers analyzed 56 varieties of national-brand and 75 private-label store brand carbonated beverages. Average caffeine contents of each carbonated beverage were determined from a minimum of 2 different lots. The beverages analyzed in this study were purchased between June 2005 and July 2006.

Some of the more common national-brand carbonated beverages analyzed included Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Dr Pepper, Mountain Dew, and their diet varieties. Store brands examined included products from Wal-Mart, Kroger and Winn-Dixie's. Overall caffeine contents ranged from 4.9mg/12oz to 74mg/12oz.

In national-brand colas, the highest value (57.1 mg/12 oz) was found in Pepsi One. Except for the lower caffeine contents of Ritz Cola and Red Rock Cola and the higher caffeine content of Pepsi One, the remaining samples contained 33.3 to 48.1 mg caffeine/12 oz.

The caffeine contents of 10 national-brand pepper-type beverages ranged from 39.4mg/12oz (Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper) to 44.1mg/12 oz (Diet Dr Pepper).

For citrus beverages, the range was 19.7 to 74.0mg/12oz.The greatest caffeine content (74.0mg/12 oz) was found in Vault Zero. Except for the lowest caffeine content of Faygo Moon Mist (19.7mg/12 oz), the other beverages contained more than 49mg caffeine per 12 oz.

Out of the private-label store brands tested, caffeine contents of regular colas ranged from 4.9mg to 46.4mg/12 oz. Diet colas had levels ranging from 10.3mg to 61.9mg. Private-label pepper-type sodas had levels ranging from 18.2 to 59.8 mg/12 oz. For citrus drinks, the range was 25.1 to 55.1 mg/12 oz. (Food Navigator News)

Since you don't know how much is in each bottle or can, it's hard to know how much you should (or shouldn't) drink. Not that anyone knows this exactly, and it obviously differs for different people. Here are the recommendations of various authorities (take them with a grain of caffeine):

Government bodies have specified the maximum levels allowed in sodas: in the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets the limit at 0.02 percent, or 72mg/12oz; Canada sets limits in cola-type beverages of 200ppm, or 71mg/12oz; Australia sets limits of 51mg/12oz; and limits in New Zealand are 71mg/12oz.

The American Dietetic Association - as well as the Food Standards Agency in the UK - advises people not to consume more than 300mg of caffeine per day. Health Canada advises consumers to limit their caffeine intake to 400 to 450 mg per day. This advice is particularly aimed at pregnant women, who, studies indicate, have greater risk of miscarriage or babies with low birth weight if they exceed the 300mg barrier. (Food Navigator News)

Those limits seem pretty high. That's about ten cans of the average cola. The amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee varies a great deal by bean, brewing method, etc. Figure 75 mg to 175 mg for a 7 oz. cup. If your coffee is as strong as mine that's two cups a day. Tea, maybe a third to a half as much as coffee. So a can of cola is less than an average cup of coffee and maybe almost as much as a cup of tea.

Supposedly Coke and Pepsi announced in February they will put caffeine amounts on labels. I just looked on a can of Diet Coke and it isn't on there. At least I don't think so. My hand was shaking too much to read the tiny print.

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Of course, there are other sources of caffeine that many people probably don't think about. Many OTC drugs (Anacin, Bayer, and Excedrin are the first three to pop into my head) also contain significant amounts of caffeine. 1 dose of Excedrin has 130mg of the stuff.

For citrus beverages, the range was 19.7 to 74.0mg/12oz.

I think this is misleading. This is for Mountain Dew and competing brands who emulate them. It does not apply to Sprite, Seven-Up, Slice, or Squirt.

By Tegumai Bopsul… (not verified) on 09 Jul 2007 #permalink

Should mention; all the brands I mentioned are caffeine-free.

Also; most root beers are caffeine-free. Barq's, which is widely distributed by Coca-Cola, is not caffeine-free.

By Tegumai Bopsul… (not verified) on 09 Jul 2007 #permalink

For several years I drank 6-8 cups of coffee daily. I'm unsure of how strong it was, but it was certainly stronger than starbucks - so I was well over the 300 mg limit, and probably the 450 mg limit as well.
A few months ago I moved in with some people who can't abide by the smell of coffee (sad ... ) and I went down to zero caffeine. However I'm sure at some point I'll pick up the habit again - and I guess I'll have to remember to switch to decaf after a few cups.

Some of us are very sensitive to caffeine. I try to keep my intake to zero. When I eat something that had hidden caffeine I must suffer with heart palpitations for a few hours.

As an acid refluxer for many years, it took me quite a while to find out what was cranking my stomach up every chance it had to do it. Some esophageal erosion was evident and not to mention it burned for a bit. Christ I only drank about two a day but yup, that was it. It also kept me wired up for about 8 hours a day during work and then it would drop me into the depths of post high for the lack of a better word, depression. I would be as tired and wrung out as they came.

So finally after many visits to the gastro group, I was drinking with my immuno-doc friend and he said for me after talking to him about it to stop that stuff and see what happened. Miracle cure. Reflux stopped in about a week, it did take a little longer for me not to yearn for the brain burn of my Mountain Dew and my BP dropped a full ten points to the happiness of my GP. It went from borderline high to only slightly above normal for a 20 year old.

One should always be careful to pay attention to what goes into ones mouth. It probably would make a great study to look at the numbers from the introduction of caffeine into soft drinks to correlation in drinkers and non drinkers of the producst for heart attacks and diabetes. I personally lost 20 pounds in six months after I got off that shit. No, I dont drink coffee but like a junkie, I literally can smell a M. Dew from across the room.

Go figure.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 09 Jul 2007 #permalink

Sorry for the nitpicking, but...

...I was under the impression that 0.02% and 200 ppm were one and the same proportion (one part in five thousand); how can they correspond to different values (72 vs. 71 mg)?

Rounding error, perhaps?

By Aureola Nominee, FCD (not verified) on 09 Jul 2007 #permalink

You can find the stats on caffeine content in many common brands (both food and drinks) at It's a pretty cool site, and has some silly features too, like a calculator to determine how much of a product you'd need to give yourself a lethal caffeine dose (not taking individual sensitivities into account).

Hmmm, so now I know why I can drink tea all day and then one diet cola at dinner and.... well, let's just say, it was 5 am before I decided I'd really better try to get some sleep.

Given that that was my experience about 2 days ago, this info is helpful in grinding that lesson into my reluctant brain.

I love my caffeine. I, like Revere, can drink coffee right before and bed without any obvious adverse effects. My wife OTH cannot tolerate it, it make her sleep like s**t. In contrast, I can't drink alcohol without screwing up my sleep cycle. I have my caffeine intake tuned so that I peak all during the day, then coast down and crash at about 9-10 PM. It will probably catch up with me later in life but I sure love that speed buzz.

I love the phrase "pepper-type beverages."
Isn't the major flavoring prune juice?

For those of you who might be thinking of quitting on a caffeine habit, be sure to wean yourself off slowly, rather than trying to quit cold turkey. For a lot of people, caffeine withdrawl results in something that feels like a combination of a migraine, a hangover, and a low-grade case of the flu. (YMMV.)

For what it's worth, citrus-flavoured beverages in Canada do not contain caffeine, which is why our Orange Crush is better than yours, and our Mountain Dew almost infinitely worse. I still haven't figured out why Canadian Doctor Pepper sucks, though...

By Interrobang (not verified) on 10 Jul 2007 #permalink

I-bang.. Yeah, you are right that Orange Crush up there is absolutely marvelous as is the creme soda. I brought some back from Sault St. Marie to the base in Alpena by the case loads. Forgiving Customs Agent let me through... guess it was the military ID. Mountain Dew up there stinks though. The Doctor Pepper I was told was because the syrup has to be home grown and the ingredients just arent available in Gods Country.

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 10 Jul 2007 #permalink

I recently helped chaperone the 5th grade field trip (to Mackinaw Island, as it happens). Some of the girls and all of the boys chose to use their spending money to buy Rockstar, Amp, Red Bull, Monster, all "energy drinks" with large amounts of caffeine, as well as taurine, ginseng and "B vitamins". Some kids consumed three of these drinks in the course of the day, while their parents watched. A few of the kids returned them and got their money back when I pointed out that the cans were labelled "not for children". Some told me that they drink the stuff daily. Some told me how much you needed to drink to "get a buzz".

If it wasn't for Jolt, I wouldn't have made it through college. The soda companies get the caffeine from leftover caffeine from the decaf coffee companies (or maybe someone was pulling my leg?)

By Rapid Heartbeat (not verified) on 10 Jul 2007 #permalink

Rapid Heartbeat -

They were almost certainly pulling your leg. The caffeine in most sodas is synthetic pharmaceutical caffeine. A different chemical than that which occurs in coffee. This is why most people who are addicted to one type of caffeine beverage, do not find relief from their withdrawal symptoms, simply using a different source of caffeine. A coffee addict, will not get rid of their headache, drinking a soda, or vice versus. Nor will tea make a difference, again a different makeup.

For what it's worth, citrus-flavoured beverages in Canada do not contain caffeine, which is why our Orange Crush is better than yours, and our Mountain Dew almost infinitely worse

From what I understand, the restriction up here is that caffiene is not allowed to be an additive to foods where it is not a natural flavoring (i.e. Coffee, Tea and Cola contains caffiene naturally, while citrus dosen't)

In the last couple years, Pepsi got around this with Mountain Dew by releasing the American version as an "energy drink" called "Mountain Dew Fuel" The product is identical to the american recipe, but the packeging has labels with active medicinal ingredient notes and warnings that it contains caffiene. The original non-caffinated beverage is still available as well.