High caffeine 'energy' drinks and other foods containing caffeine

Energy drinks are generally drinks with high caffeine levels that are claimed by the manufacturers to give the consumer more 'energy' than a typical soft drink.

Our advice about caffeine

Energy drinks

Energy drinks can contain high levels of caffeine, usually about 80 milligrams (mg) of caffeine in a small 250ml can – this is similar to three cans of cola or a mug of instant coffee. As well as caffeine, they may contain other ingredients, such as glucuronolactone and taurine, and sometimes vitamins and minerals or herbal substances. Some of the smaller 'energy shot' products can contain anywhere from 80mg to as much as 160mg of caffeine in a 60ml bottle.

Food supplements

Food supplements may sometimes contain high levels of caffeine. The labelling of all supplements must indicate a recommended daily dose and the amount of substances with a nutritional or physiological effect in each dose, including caffeine when it is present. A warning not to exceed the recommended daily dose must also be included, which is important for consumers to follow.

Children, pregnant women and breast-feeding women

Based on current scientific opinions on the safety of caffeine, we advise that children, or other people sensitive to caffeine, should only consume caffeine in moderation. Pregnant and breast-feeding women are advised not to have more than 200mg of caffeine over the course of a day, which is roughly two mugs of instant coffee or one mug of filter coffee. Drinks like espresso and lattes, which are made from ground coffee, typically contain higher levels of caffeine per mug. Further advice on caffeine consumption during pregnancy and breast feeding can be found on the NHS Choices website via the link on this page.

Statutory labelling

The EU Food Information Regulation (Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011) requires specific labelling for high caffeine drinks and foods where caffeine has been added for a physiological effect. This labelling helps consumers to identify foods with high caffeine content in those products where they may not expect to find it unlike tea and coffee.

Drinks

Drinks that contain caffeine from whatever source at a level over 150mg per litre (mg/l) must state: ‘High caffeine content. Not recommended for children or pregnant or breast-feeding women’.

This must be in the same field of vision as the name of the product, along with the amount of caffeine expressed in mg per 100ml.

Foods

Foods (other than drinks) to which caffeine is added for a physiological purpose must state: ‘Contains caffeine. Not recommended for children or pregnant women'.

This must be in the same field of vision as the name of the food along with the amount of caffeine in mg per 100g or per 100ml.

Food supplements

For food supplements containing caffeine, the amount must be expressed per portion as recommended for daily consumption.

Where the rules do not apply

Food name includes ‘coffee’ or ‘tea’

The above rules do not apply to drinks based on coffee, tea or coffee or tea extract where the name of the food includes the term ‘coffee’ or ‘tea’ (eg iced tea).

Caffeine added for flavouring

The rules also do not apply to foods (including drinks) where caffeine is added for a flavouring rather than physiological purpose. Such foods and drinks must comply with EU flavouring legislation (Regulation (EC) No 1334/2008). This limits the use of caffeine for flavouring purposes to particular foods and drinks and sets associated maximum levels. The EU labelling legislation (Regulation (EC) No 1169/2011) requires that where caffeine is used as a flavouring, the term ‘caffeine’ must appear after the word ‘flavouring(s)’ in the list of ingredients.

Voluntary labelling

The British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) has an voluntary Code of Practice on energy drinks, which suggests that the term 'Consume Moderately' (or similar words) should be included on the label and that such products should not be promoted or marketed to those under 16 years of age.

The science behind the story: 

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published an opinion on May 2015 on the safety of caffeine. EFSA considered research on short term adverse effects of caffeine such as interrupted sleep, anxiety and behavioural changes (eg effects on the central nervous system) and increased blood pressure (eg effects on the cardiovascular system). They did not consider studies on ‘beneficial’ effects such as increased alertness.

EFSA’s advice only relates to ‘healthy’ people eg those without underlying health problems such as hypertension. In summary, EFSA advised that:
For pregnant and breast-feeding women daily intakes of caffeine up to 200mg do not raise safety concerns for the unborn child or breast-fed child respectively.  For breast-feeding women, single doses of caffeine up to 200mg are not a safety concern for the child.

For adults (except for pregnant women) single doses of caffeine up to 200mg and daily intakes of caffeine up to 400mg do not raise safety concerns. However for some adults, single doses of 100mg of caffeine may increase the time it takes to fall asleep and reduce sleep duration, particularly when consumed close to bedtime. There were no safety concerns over the interaction between other constituents of energy drinks (ie glucuronolactone and taurine) and single doses up to 200mg or daily intakes up to 400mg of caffeine.

For children and adolescents single doses of caffeine up to 3mg/kg body weight (bw) and daily intakes of caffeine up to 3mg/kg bw do not raise safety concerns. For a 10-year-old child weighing 30kg, this would equate to around 90mg of caffeine.  As with adults, caffeine doses of 1.4mg/kg bw may increase the time it takes for children and adolescents to fall asleep and reduce sleep duration, particularly when consumed close to bedtime.

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