If you have trouble getting through the day without a jolt of caffeine, you’re not alone. According to a High Altitude Medicine and Biologyreport, 90% of North American adults catch a caffeine buzz daily. But not everyone's getting that energy boost from beverages alone. From cereal to sunflower seeds, caffeine is waking up a variety of packaged foods. In fact, as of 2013, retail sales of caffeinated foods had grown 49% to $1.6 billion since 2008, according to consumer market research firm Euromonitor International. With tremendous growth like that, we don’t see this trend dying down anytime soon.
While caffeinated foods can be pretty tasty, many are loaded with calories and sugar (to compensate for caffeine’s natural bitterness) and many serve up too much of a jolt. The American Dietetic Association recommends having no more than 300 milligrams of the stimulant daily (that's what you’d find in two 8-ounce cups of coffee), while some of these energized foods offer more than four times that amount in one serving. The more caffeine the better, right? Not exactly. Too much can cause stomach pain, negatively impact mood and nutrient absorption, increase heart rate, and lead to dizzy spells and dehydration. Eek.
To help you navigate all the new caffeine-packed foods on the supermarket shelves, we’ve tracked down the most interesting options and asked Toby Amidor, M.S., R.D., national nutrition expert and author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day, and Jim White, R.D., personal trainer and Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics Spokesperson, which products are worth trying.
Per 2.5 oz. serving:160 calories, 114 mg sodium, 1-2 g sugar, 140 milligrams of caffeine
Caffeine Equivalent: Almost two 8.4-ounce cans of Red Bull
The Scoop: Sumseeds are an in-shell sunflower snack infused with uppers like caffeine and ginseng and essential amino acids such as lysine. The seeds come in five different flavors: Original Salted, Honey BBQ, Salt & Pepper, Dill Pickle, and Tangy Ranch.
The Bottom Line: “It’s easy to over eat salty snacks, and with Sumseeds, if you aren’t careful, you could consume the caffeine equivalent of four cups of coffee in just six small tablespoons,” cautions White. “If you’re able to eat just one serving of these seeds, go for it. However, if you struggle with portion control, raw, unsalted seeds would be a better choice.”
Per sprinkle shot: 0 calories, 0 g sugar, 0 g sodium, 100 mg of caffeine
Caffeine Equivalent: Two shots of espresso
The Scoop: This nearly-tasteless caffeine powder is made up of maltodextrin (a safe food additive), caffeine, and vegetable oil. It can be sprinkled on anything, so the energy-infused food and drink options are essentially endless. Caffeinated chicken parm? Sure. Fruit salad that gives you a jolt? Why not? Weird or totally awesome? We’ll let you be the judge.
The Bottom Line: Skip it. While the zero-calorie count is a plus, it seems easy to sprinkle on too much of this caffeinated powder, which could cause the jitters and other uncomfortable side effects, notes Amidor. “I would suggest drinking a cup of coffee or tea instead.”
In two pieces: 10 calories, 0 g sodium, 3 g sugar, 70 mg of caffeine
Caffeine Equivalent: One Starbucks Short Awake Tea Latte
The Scoop: This gum is spiked with caffeine, energy boosting B-vitamins and guarana, a super strong stimulant derived from the seeds of a South American tree. Makers claim that chewers feel the energizing effects just five minutes after popping it into their mouths. How does it work so quickly? The gum’s stimulants are absorbed through the blood vessels underneath the tongue. In comparison, it takes about 45 minutes for the caffeine in coffee to take effect because it needs to be absorbed by the stomach and small intestine before traveling into the bloodstream.
The Bottom Line: Try it. Chew two or three pieces of Jolt before your workout on days you're feeling particularly sluggish, suggests White. Downing a bit of caffeine pre-pump can improve endurance and boost calorie burn. The best part? Since the gum is so low-cal it won't derail your fitness efforts.
Per tablespoon: 5 calories, 0 sugar, 35 mg sodium, 12 mg of caffeine
Caffeine Equivalent: Two Decaf 5-hour Energy Shots
The Scoop: The idea for DoubleKick, a caffeine-laced hot sauce, came to founder Ben Meyer during his lunch hour when he was in need of a pick-me-up but didn't want to get his jolt from a beverage. The sauce, which is similar to Sriracha, is infused with rich, spicy, and sweet flavors. Meyer suggests adding it to stir fry recipes and egg dishes.
The Bottom Line: This is one of the lowest-calorie caffeinated food products on the market. Even so, Amidor isn’t a fan. “This product already contains capsaicin, which is a natural upper," she says. "There’s no reason to for it to have an additional energy-boosting ingredient— it’s too much!” If you do decide to try it though, it is relatively harmless as the heat makes its hard to over consume, which helps keep calories and caffeine to a minimum.
Per waffle: 200-210 calories, 14g- 19 g sugar, 100-110 mg sodium, 200 mg caffeine
Caffeine Equivalent: More than seven cups of tea
The Scoop: Makers of these waffles use green coffee bean extract to give this breakfast treat its zing. You may have heard claims that the extract also accelerates fat loss, however there is little hard science proving this. Either way, at 200 milligrams of caffeine per waffle, this early a.m. treat is sure to give you a buzz.
The Bottom Line: Skip it. “These waffles are loaded with sugar and have nearly three times the amount of fat as Kellogg's Eggo variety,” warns White. What’s more, “if you were to eat just two of these caffeinated waffles (because no one ever eats just one), you would be ingesting 400 milligrams of the stimulant which is enough to cause anxiety and increased blood pressure.”
Per 1.4 oz. box: 180 calories, 19 g sugar, 0 g sodium, 600 mg caffeine
Caffeine Equivalent: 11 cans of Mountain Dew
The Scoop: Jitterbeans are a dark chocolate covered espresso bean infused with coffee and guarana seed extract—and the combination is super strong. Just one small box serves up double The American Dietetic Association’s recommended daily caffeine intake. Plus, like many other candies, this crunchy sweet treat is loaded with sugar, corn syrup, and cornstarch—not exactly ingredients that will do your waistline any favors.
The Bottom Line: Skip it. The 1.4 ounce candy box is only slightly smaller than the average bag of M&Ms. Without portion-controlled packaging it’s easy to accidently nosh on too many of these candies and subsequently ingest too much caffeine, cautions Amidor. For a similar snack sans stimulant, Amidor suggests Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Espresso Beans.
Per ½ cup scoop: 260-280 calories, 12-16 g sugar, 90-140 mg sodium, 125 mg caffeine
Caffeine Equivalent: More than two espressos
The Scoop: Ice cream is very rich, which can sometimes induce a food coma. However, with 125 milligrams of energy-boosting caffeine in each scoop, this creamy treat does just the opposite. It comes in creatively-named flavors like “Heaps of Gold” and “Cooky Mint.”
The Bottom Line: “If the sugar, fat, and additives don’t immediately upset your stomach, the caffeine most likely will,” says White. “I would suggest skipping this ice cream altogether and grabbing a lower-calorie variety with naturally occurring caffeine and fewer than five ingredients.” Häagen-Dazs' coffee ice cream fits the bill.
Per bag (about 9 gummies): 60 calories, 18 mg sodium, 13 g sugar, 32 mg caffeine
Caffeine Equivalent: One 8-ounce Diet Coke
The Scoop: These citrus and berry flavored gummies are infused with taurine, energy-boosting B-vitamins, and coenzyme Q10, a naturally-occurring compound in the body that produces energy for cell growth and maintenance. It is used in a variety of medications and has also been approved as a dietary supplement. It may boost energy and improve athletic performance, but research is not conclusive.
The Bottom Line: Try it. “Compared to the other caffeinated foods out there, this is one of the safest and most waist-friendly bets because it’s relatively low in calories and caffeine,” says White. He does warn, however, that those taking blood-pressure-lowering medications should steer clear, as the added coenzyme Q10 could cause adverse side effects.
Per 1.5 oz. serving: 160 calories, 16 g sugar, 130 mg sodium, 80 mg caffeine
Caffeine Equivalent: One Rockstar Energy Drink Double Strength
The Scoop: The makers of this product, Get Up and Go, combine whole grain rolled oats, brown sugar, maple syrup, canola oil, cinnamon, vanilla extract, salt, and coffee beans to create this one of a kind cereal.
The Bottom Line: The nutritional stats and caffeine content of the granola may not look too alarming, but the serving size is very small— less than 1/4th cup. “Of all the caffeinated food options out there this is one of the better options but only if you can stick to the allotted portion,” notes Amidor. Try measuring out one serving and mixing it in with Greek yogurt and fresh fruit. The combination of protein, carbs and fat will keep you satisfied and ward off the temptation to indulge in seconds.