Surprising Ways Caffeine Can Sneak Into Your Day

Your doctor says to stay away from caffine, but there are still unexpected ways you can consume it. Learn the sneaky ways caffeine can still affect your pregnancy.
woman eating chocolate

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You've been trying to be a good girl, sticking to your one-latte-a-day limit. But there are other things you're eating that could put you well over the 200-milligram max of caffeine recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. So where could is all this caffeine hiding? The answers may surprise you. "We all think about the traditional things like coffee and tea as far as caffeine," says David Elmer, M.D., an ob-gyn at Nantucket Cottage Hospital in Nantucket, Massachusetts. "But it's increasingly common in some other foods and medications." Here's a rundown of caffeinated substances you may not be aware of consuming.

Energy Drinks

It may seem like a "duh" moment, but you might forget that the Red Bull you love packs in 80 milligrams of caffeine per serving. (That's where the energy comes from!) Before you indulge, do a little research on any food product that says it's extreme or that it boosts your energy. Read the labels and make sure the amount of caffeine in it won't put you over your daily limit.

Non-Cola Sodas

The caffeine content of dark sodas (like plain and flavored Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper, and Pepsi), regular or diet, is well-known, but they're not the only sodas that can contain it. "Mountain Dew is relatively high in caffeine, and some root beers have it as well," Dr. Elmer says. But if you stick with fruit sodas like lemon-lime or orange, or ginger ale (that morning-sickness soother), you'll avoid caffeine.

Chocolate and Cocoa Products

Trading your morning cup of coffee for some hot chocolate could just be swapping one caffeinated beverage for another, as cocoa and chocolate contain caffeine, too. But you'll have to down a lot more hot chocolate to reach those same caffeine levels. There's only 25 milligrams of caffeine in a 16-ounce grande cup of Starbucks hot chocolate vs. 330 milligrams in the same size cup of coffee. "Fortunately for chocoholics, chocolate has much less caffeine than either coffee or tea," says dietitian Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, author of Feed Your Family Right. "Coffee usually has at least 75 milligrams per 8-ounce cup, but a Hershey bar has 9 milligrams and a Hershey special dark chocolate bar has 20 milligrams." If you're really looking to limit your caffeine, skip dark chocolate and chocolate-covered espresso beans, which carry a whopping 224 milligrams for a single ounce. Instead, opt for milk chocolate (which has half the caffeine) or white chocolate, which contains only trace amounts of caffeine.

Coffee-Flavored Treats

"Lots of snack foods are caffeinated, including coffee-flavored ice creams, frozen yogurts, and snack bars," Zied says. In fact, those yummy ice creams and frozen yogurts contain as much as 125 milligrams per serving of caffeine (though most clock in between 25 and 45 mg per four ounces). Coffee-flavored frozen yogurts tend to have the same amounts of caffeine as their ice cream counterparts. And keep in mind that mocha flavoring contains both chocolate and espresso, both of which add to the caffeine count. (For example, Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino ice cream clocks in at 25 mg for a 4-ounce serving.) And opting for sugar-free or low-fat ice cream and yogurt options doesn't lower the caffeine count.

A Variety of Teas

Most people realize that black tea contains caffeine, but what about that big glass of ice-cold green tea? That actually could contain some caffeine, too. "Caffeine is found in most teas, including green tea and iced tea," says Michele Hakakha, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn in Beverly Hills, California, and author of Expecting 411. But the amount of caffeine in an iced tea is generally about half the amount from a hot version -- in fact, 16 ounces of Arizona black iced tea contains 30 mg of caffeine, while 8 ounces of brewed hot black tea contains between 30 and 80 mg. Even decaf varieties usually contain trace amounts of caffeine -- 5 mg in an 8-ounce cup. Herbal teas tend to be caffeine free, but always ask your doctor before drinking them, as some common herbs, including chamomile and ginseng, may cause contractions or bleeding.

Medications

You're probably watching your medication regimen pretty carefully now that you're expecting, but caffeine could sneak in with some of the most innocuous and safe meds. "There is caffeine in over-the-counter medications, such as Excedrin Migraine, plus some cold and flu remedies," Dr. Elmer says. "You definitely ought to check out any medications you're taking." The amounts may surprise you -- there's 130 mg of caffeine in a single dose of Excedrin Migraine and 65 mg in a dose of Bayer Back & Body. Plus, some prescription medicines may contain caffeine, so always make sure to consult your doctor about any concerns you may have.

So how can you keep within your caffeinated limits? Check out the facts and figures on the Center for Science in the Public Interest's caffeine content chart (cspinet.org/new/cafchart.htm) to add up your daily intake. To keep your number below that safe 200 milligram amount, you might need to swap out your coffee for tea so you have "room" for that candy bar you're craving.

Coffee & Tea During Pregnancy: Safe or Not?
Coffee & Tea During Pregnancy: Safe or Not?

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