One study from the Journal of American Diet concludes that an average 7-oz cup of coffee contains anywhere from 80 to 175 mg of caffeine. That’s a pretty wide range. Another study estimates the caffeine content of a cup of coffee at 90-150. Regardless, we can safely average these two studies and say that a cup of coffee will have about 125 mg of caffeine.
These same studies cite the caffeine content of other sources:
- A Cadbury chocolate bar has 15 mg of caffeine (one would need to eat more than 8 Cadbury chocolate bars to equate to a cup of coffee).
- A glass of chocolate milk has a whopping 8 mg of caffeine (yes, that’s more than 16 glasses to match a cup of coffee).
- A package of hot chocolate/cocoa, mixed with water or milk, to produce a cup of hot chocolate/cocoa contains 5 mg of caffeine (one would need to consume 25 cups of hot chocolate to equal one cup of coffee).
- Jell-O pudding pops contain 2 mg (over 60 pudding pops to equal a cup of coffee).
- A glass of iced tea contains about 70 mg of caffeine.
- The most popular brands of cola contains about 30-45 mg of caffeine.
However, when considering the health benefits to the Word of Wisdom, should we just look at the caffeine content of coffee, tea and other sources? It is not just the caffeine in coffee and tea that produces harmful effects to our health. Take the caffeine out and you are still left with the following consequences:
Hundreds of potentially harmful chemical components. One class of these compounds is caffeols. Caffeols are coffee oils, which are very irritating to the gastrointestinal tract. In addition, many other chemicals that have been linked to cancer and heart disease are still present as are other central nervous system stimulants (Journal of the National Cancer Institute 54:587, 1975).
The coffee bean’s composition is dramatically altered during roasting, resulting in chemical transformations where more than 700 “volatile substances…are formed (Garattini, Silvio, Caffeine, Coffee and Health, Raven Press, New York, 1993, pp. 17-41 and H. Maarse, Volatile Compounds in Food, Vol. 2, 6th Ed., Zeist, 1989).
Such chemicals as acetaldehyde, ammonia, carbon disulphide, acetic acid, nitrosamines, and others may make coffee a mouthful of trouble! (Garattini, Silvio, Caffeine, Coffee and Health, Raven Press, New York, 1993, pp. 17-41 and H. Maarse, Volatile Compounds in Food, Vol. 2, 6th Ed., Zeist, 1989).
But whether it’s decaffeinated or not, just one daily cup of coffee increases the risk of bladder cancer three times (American Journal of Epidemiology 117: 113-127, 1983; Journal of the National Cancer Institute 547, 1975).
And drinking more than two cups a day of caffeinated coffee doubles the risk of fatal bladder cancer (American Journal of Public Health 74(8)820-23, 1984).
Brown drink users have an increased risk of stomach, kidney, lung, pancreatic, ovarian and colon cancer. (George Hodgkin, M.S., R.D., et. al., Caffeine: Bad to the Last Drop, Loma Linda, CA) and (International Journal of Cancer 28(6): 691-693, 1981).
So, we know, scientifically, that coffee brings unique and serious health risks, even without the caffeine. There is plenty of the same regarding tea.
Lastly, I want to address the apparent lack of clarity within the Word of Wisdom. One would be correct in saying that the revelation, we call the Word of Wisdom, does not say “caffeine,” or “cola.” Of course, it also doesn’t include, as substances to avoid, marijuana or cocaine. One must look past the words and look to the spirit of the counsel contained within the revelation.
Are we looking to abide by the letter or the spirit of the law? The spirit of the law says to treat our bodies well…to feed it healthy substances and to abstain from harmful substances. Is cocaine harmful? Is marijuana harmful? That seems to be a pretty easy question to answer. A more difficult one for many is the question of the harmful effects of caffeine…and the quantities that we should allow in our bodies.
One study has declared that the average American consumes 280 mg of caffeine per day (which is a level considered harmful to the body, according to the same study). This is the equivalent to 2-3 cups of coffee per day. An average and active Latter-day Saint, who abstains from coffee and tea, would have to consume 7 or 8 cans of cola to reach this level…or 18 Cadbury chocolate bars…or 56 cups of hot chocolate (which equates to about 3 buckets full) per day…or some combination of the above.
The point is clear…moderation and avoiding unhealthy substances and/or unhealthy levels of other substances.
Many General Authorities of the Church have included caffeine as something to avoid, consistent with the spirit of the Word of Wisdom. But, that is not by the letter of the law. It is not official Church doctrine. Do we need to avoid any and all levels of caffeine? Well, I guess that is one of those things that is left up to the individual. Not everything is black and white. However, the official interpretation of the Word of Wisdom on this wise, is coffee and tea.
Some things require us to make a judgment. And not all of us will make the same judgment. Some of us will make wrong judgments (I do it everyday, it seems). We are human…yes, even the Latter-day Saints are human…and fallible (tongue in cheek) as much as many would try to hold us to a different standard.
Studies and sources used:
Fraser, Clarence M., The Merck Veterinary Manual, 7th ed. Rahway, NJ: Merck & Co., Inc. 1991. pp. 1643-1644.
Bunker and McWilliams in Journal of American Diet. 74:28-32, 1979
B. Stavric, R. Klassen, B. Watkinson, K. Karpinski, R. Stapley, and P. Fried, “Foundations of Chemical Toxicology”, Volume 26, number 2, pp. 111-118, 1988
Looking for the Perfect Brew by S. Eisenberg, “Science News”, Volume 133, April 16, 1988, pp. 252-253.
Bowes and Church’s Food values of portions commonly used, Anna De Planter Bowes. Lippincott, Phila.1989. Pages 261-262.