​No more than 4 coffees a day! EU sets new (lax) caffeine guidelines

AFP Photo / Joe Raedle
The EU has set generous recommended limits for caffeine consumption, after a comprehensive report failed to find significant health risks associated with the substance if imbibed in the usual quantities, either chronically or in one session.

“Single doses of caffeine up to 200 mg do not give rise to safety concerns. The same amount does not give rise to safety concerns when consumed < 2 hours prior to intense physical exercise under normal environmental conditions,” said the abstract of a report published by European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which was asked to produce a recommended consumption amount for the first time ever.

“Habitual caffeine consumption up to 400 mg per day does not give rise to safety concerns for non-pregnant adults. Habitual caffeine consumption up to 200 mg per day by pregnant women does not give rise to safety concerns for the fetus. Single doses of caffeine and habitual caffeine intakes up to 200 mg consumed by lactating women do not give rise to safety concerns for breastfed infants.”

The limit of 400 mg amounts to about twelve 330ml cans of Coca-Cola, five 250 ml cans of Red Bull, around 950 ml of Americano, four to five Espressos, or 8 plain chocolate bars.

In seven of 13 EU countries reviewed in the study more than 5 percent of people consumed over the proposed limit, with 33 percent abusers in Denmark, 17.3 percent in the Netherlands and 14.6 in Germany.

The severity of adverse effects for those consuming caffeine were also unclear: Those who broke the limits experienced higher blood pressure, had a slightly greater chance of experiencing a stroke, and would suffer from caffeine withdrawal symptoms, such as irritability, anxiety and low mood. It is unclear whether the dangers escalated when the substance was consumed in unusually large quantities, so the limits prescribed are mostly precautionary.

“The main message of the report is that consumers must account for caffeine consumption from sources other than coffee,” an EU spokesman told AFP, saying that users failed to realize the content of caffeine in chocolate bars, tea and other substances not as commonly associated with it.

“The health risk is not enormous, but it exists.”