Home CommentaryOpinions Monster and Red Bull are not the only caffeine culprits

Monster and Red Bull are not the only caffeine culprits

by The Concordian January 24, 2012
Monster and Red Bull are not the only caffeine culprits

Graphic by Katie Brioux

For caffeine junkies, it’s a dream. Tim Hortons’ newest addition, the extra-large cup, which became available on Jan. 23, can contain an incredible 24 ounces (710 ml) of coffee.

Such a large coffee cup means a large amount of caffeine. According to Tim Hortons’ website, a medium-sized cup of coffee in Canada contains around 100 mg of caffeine, while the extra-large cup contains closer to 200 mg of caffeine. But experts say caffeine content can vary wildly from cup to cup, and some say it’s possible that a 24-ounce cup can contain up to 525 mg of caffeine.

A 16-ounce can of Monster energy drink has 160 mg of caffeine in it, and yet an expert panel convened by Health Canada in 2010 wanted the amount of caffeine in energy drinks reduced to 80 mg. The federal government eventually capped the amount of caffeine at 180 mg last October.

If the caffeine content of energy drinks is such an issue, then why is Tim Hortons’ massive 24-ounce caffeine injection being tolerated?

Caffeine is, as we know, actually a drug. It is a stimulant, not as intense as illegal drugs, but it still has the ability to cause adverse effects in large amounts. As health educator Owen Moran from Concordia University Health Services explains, “Caffeine speeds up your heart rate, and can make it difficult to fall asleep,” he said. “There are people who should not be consuming that much caffeine in a day: pregnant women, people who have sleep difficulties, and people who suffer from anxiety, because that increased heart rate is very stimulating and can exasperate anxiety.”

On top of that, overindulging in caffeine can also stimulate your respiratory system and central nervous system, raise blood pressure and affect the length and quality of sleep. Heavy caffeine users suffer from sleep deprivation because their nervous systems are too stimulated to allow a deep, restful or prolonged sleep.

Last year, Health Canada’s expert panel urged tougher rules and warnings on energy drinks because of concerns that the “caffeine-loaded beverages are being overconsumed by teens and tweens who don’t understand the potential side effects,” according to the Huffington Post. Furthermore, “energy drinks are formulated for adults and are not recommended for children and teens, but youthful marketing campaigns and event sponsorships have helped attract young people to the brands,” according to the National Post.

Tim Hortons’ cup sizes should be regulated as well. Teens and tweens have just as much access to coffee as they do to energy drinks, but the Timmy cups don’t come with warnings or labels that identify their caffeine content. This perceived preferential treatment does not seem to mesh well with Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq’s wishes to classify energy drinks as drugs instead of food.

The new cup size is undoubtedly related to customer demand and an attempt to keep up with rivals Starbucks and Second Cup, which offer similarly-sized cups. This raises another important question: why do we adopt the “bigger is better” mentality like our southern neighbours do? Who needs 24 ounces of coffee?

Health Canada recommends capping your daily caffeine intake at 400 mg, or three eight-ounce cups. The problem is, the “all men are created equal” quote certainly does not equate to “all coffees are created equal.” Tim Hortons, Starbucks and Second Cup coffees contain different amounts of caffeine. Depending on what size of coffee people order, some who think they’re drinking only two or three cups of coffee a day may actually be drinking far more. Factor in sugar and cream and it’s even worse for your health.

Health Canada should regulate coffees, too, if they’re going to be so tough on energy drinks.

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