Food & Drink

Each bite done right: Kicking a caffeine habit can have health benefits

A cup of coffee every day is the norm for many people, but can have unhealthy consequences.
A cup of coffee every day is the norm for many people, but can have unhealthy consequences. Centre Daily Times, file

Editor’s note: Each Bite Done Right columns feature work from members of Penn State’s Student Nutrition Association.

Even in the thick of winter, with students covered head to toe, most of my classmates still managed to carry coffee in one of their gloved hands. Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Sheetz — the brand doesn’t matter. I personally dislike coffee and could never really acquire a taste for it, but many of my friends refuse to start their days without it.

A cup of coffee may cost only a couple of dollars, but the cumulative price of all of these drinks can do serious damage to a bank account. A new report shows that the average American worker spends $1,100 on coffee per year.

Buying a cup of coffee on the way to class each morning is not only an expensive habit, but an unhealthy one. The extra sugar and cream add unnecessary calories to a person’s diet. Caramel and other popular flavors are added sugars that have no positive effect on a person’s diet. Energy shots have been introduced as a way to get a daily caffeine kick without the added calories. With the same amount of caffeine as a cup of the leading Starbucks coffee, a 5-Hour Energy shot is easier to carry around and lighter on the calories.

These drinks are dangerous. Caffeine alone can become highly addicting, and caffeine in conjunction with other ingredients can also cause problems. Too much caffeine can cause health issues including nervousness, insomnia, nausea and high blood pressure. Children and pregnant women are advised to avoid excessive doses of caffeine for these very reasons. Energy drinks do not need to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration because they are marketed as supplements. This means that there is no limit to the amount of caffeine that they can contain, and the amount does not have to be printed on the label.

Exercise is the most natural way to increase both heart rate and blood pressure. When athletes go into a sporting event with a body that is already at an elevated state, it could have serious consequences. According to Chris Rosenbloom, a professor of nutrition at Georgia State University in Atlanta, “If you have any underlying health issue, these drinks could trigger a heart attack, a stroke, some kind of episode of really high blood pressure.”

There are plenty of natural ways to boost your energy levels without ingesting questionably toxic substances. Replacing the coffee each morning with a hot mug of herbal tea will help to wake you up and will boost your system for the coming day. Regular exercise and a healthy diet will do wonders for overall health and well-being. I’m not suggesting that everyone should join a gym and eat an excessive amount of spinach, but I am a big fan of a well-balanced life. A full night’s sleep does wonders for the mind and the body. Eat, sleep, and live well, and over-caffeinated energy drinks will be a thing of the past.

Maggie Morgan is a sophomore majoring in nutritional sciences-dietetics option. She is a member of the Student Nutrition Association.