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Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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Jitter Bugged? Caffeine Turns Up in the Weirdest Places

Examining the pros and cons of caffeine in our diet.

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Coffee and tea were once considered no-no’s for people with high blood pressure and heart conditions. We now know that these caffeinated brews serve up some powerful antioxidants that can actually benefit our heart health. But that doesn’t let caffeine off the hook. For some of us, just a little java will get the legs jumping, the eyes twitching, and the mind racing. And many a good night’s sleep has been lost while caffeine does its crazy dance along our neurons. If you have a fast or irregular heartbeat, caffeine may make it worse, so is best avoided.

Caffeinated energy drinks have no redeeming value. They’re often loaded with sugar, food coloring, and all sorts of scary chemicals, and have none of the antioxidant goodness of coffee or tea.  Those products are obvious sources of caffeine, but things get complicated when caffeine sneaks into other drinks, foods, and snacks.

Chocolate is a natural source of caffeine, and while dark chocolate in moderation may be good for our hearts, a chunk of chocolate cake doesn’t qualify. Eat a chocolate dessert before bedtime, and you may find yourself struggling to get your shuteye. Small amounts of caffeine can even hide in chocolate flavored breakfast cereals, so think twice before serving them to your kiddos.

There is a disturbing trend towards caffeinated brownies, ice creams, gums, potato chips, and other snacks, some of which provide at least as much caffeine per serving as a strong cup of joe. These products are geared towards kids and young adults, so it’s important to double check any goodies your young ’uns bring home from the corner store.

Kids’ diets now include more than three times the amount of caffeine as 10 years ago, and the effects of all that stimulation on the young and developing brain are still not well understood. For adults, a cup or two of your favorite eye opener is usually just fine, but listen to your body. When in doubt, be sure to check in with your doctor.

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Tags: Caffeine and the Heart

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About the Author


MD, FACC

Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.

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