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Study shows caffeine content in sodas varies widely, labels needed

Looking for a quick pick-me-up?


March 24, 2008
By Canadian Vending

Topics

Looking for a quick pick-me-up to get through a long afternoon? Forget
that cola. A fizzy citrus drink could provide even more of a boost.

Looking for a quick pick-me-up to get through a long afternoon? Forget that cola. A fizzy citrus drink could provide even more of a boost.

A new study shows that citrus-flavoured sodas often have a higher caffeine content than the most popular colas. The research also found that caffeine content can vary widely from brand to brand, and even within a brand.

The researchers, along with consumer advocates, say labels on packaging should give the caffeine content to help buyers make informed choices. While most cans and bottles of soda don’t give caffeine amounts, some national brand beverage companies are already heading in that direction.

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“I don’t really take a stand on whether caffeine is good or bad, but I do think the consumer has a right to know what they’re getting,” said Leonard Bell, one of two food researchers who conducted the study at Auburn University.

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration does not limit the amount of caffeine in foods. FDA spokeswoman Veronica Castro said a 0.02 per cent caffeine content is generally recognized as safe for cola-type beverages.

For a 340-millilitre soft drink, that’s about 72 milligrams of caffeine.

{Caffeine Chart Image}
The study by Bell and co-author Ken-Hong Chou found caffeine content in 340-millilitre sodas ranged from 4.9 milligrams for a store brand of cola to 74 milligrams in Vault Zero, a citrus drink.

The FDA has received a number of petitions to include caffeine content labelling on products, including the 1997 request from the consumer group, according to Mike Herndon, another FDA spokesman.

The Coca-Cola Co., based in Atlanta, and Purchase, N.Y.-based PepsiCo Inc. said they are phasing in new labels that include caffeine content. Most national brands also provide lists of the amount of caffeine in their products on their websites. “It’s really in our best interest and that of our consumers to provide that info,” said Diana Garza, a Coca-Cola spokeswoman.

While caffeine occurs naturally in some products, like coffee and tea, it’s an additive in soft drinks. It is commonly sought out for its stimulatory effect, and beverage companies say the slightly bitter substance is also an element in their flavour formulas.

“The addition of caffeine in a beverage is largely as a flavouring,” Garza said.

Bell and Chou say the buzz caused by caffeine is its main draw. They said previous research showed that only eight per cent of adults were able to differentiate between the taste of caffeinated and caffeine-free colas.

Their study analyzed the caffeine contents of 56 national brand and 75 store brand carbonated drinks. It was published in the August issue of the Journal of Food Science.

Caffeine content of well-known national brands includes: Coca-Cola (33.9 milligrams), Diet Pepsi (36.7 milligrams), Pepsi (38.9 milligrams), Dr Pepper (42.6 milligrams), Diet Dr Pepper (44.1 milli-grams), and Diet Coke (46.3 milligrams).

By comparison, according to the American Beverage Association website, a 340-millilitre cup of coffee has between 156 and 288 milligrams of caffeine, and the same amount of tea has 30-135 milli-grams.

Bell said the data provided by manufacturers of national brand soft drinks was consistent with the findings of his study. He said the caffeine data for store brand drinks is not easy to find and often isn’t available at all.