Dietary Guidelines – Confused About Caffeine

March 25, 2015

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This is Rick Frank sitting in for John Block. This radio commentary is brought to you by Monsanto, and John Deere. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary—

The news wires have been buzzing lately about the recently released scientific report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. One of the hottest topics for discussion is how out of step the report is on a number of issues, including the Committee’s dive into political matters like sustainability, soda taxes, and “added sugar” labeling. These topics are outside the jurisdiction of the Dietary Guidelines and should be addressed by Congress or the FDA.

Today, I want to discuss caffeine consumption. Caffeine is something that has never been addressed before by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and probably for good reason. First, caffeine is safe...and safety is outside the mandate of the Dietary Guidelines. It is a topic that fits firmly within the jurisdiction of the FDA. Secondly, America seems to know what it’s doing when it comes to caffeine. 85% of Americans consume caffeine every day – and they have done so safely for generations.

In the Committee’s conclusions on caffeine, they suggest that 3 to 5 cups of “Morning Joe” are just fine – up to a moderate intake level of 400 milligrams per day for healthy adults. Inexplicably, however, they seem to suggest that energy drinks with the same amount of caffeine should be avoided.

The Committee’s approach is troubling for a number of reasons, the least of which is that many coffee house chains serve coffee beverages that contain twice as much caffeine per fluid ounce as a standard energy drink. A typical small can of a leading energy drink contains 80 mg caffeine, which is roughly the same as a regular cup of coffee or a 20 ounce bottle of cola.

Why is the Committee treating caffeine in coffee differently from the caffeine in energy drinks? This is puzzling when we consider that caffeine is caffeine is caffeine – whether found in coffee, tea, cola. The report acknowledges that the largest sources of caffeine among both adults and children come from coffee, tea, and soda. So why is caffeine in coffee okay, while tea and soda are ignored and energy drinks are vilified? Possibly it’s politics!

The Dietary Guidelines should provide a practical and achievable set of dietary and nutrient recommendations, based on balance, variety, and moderation. It should not delve into political topics that If the Dietary Guidelines are to address topics like caffeine, it should be done holistically and in an unbiased way.

Consumers need to understand caffeine in context and be provided information with respect to all sources to enable them to make informed dietary decisions. Let’s hope that the USDA and HHS take the lead on the important task of finalizing the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans in a scientific rather than a political and an emotional way.

Until next week, I am Rick Frank sitting in for John Block from Washington, D.C.