Caffeine ... Exposed!

Finally, we are receiving more information on labels from soda makers. What a great thing to have another tool that allows us to be aware and in control of how much caffeine we take into our bodies.

But even now that we can see how much of it we are getting, many of us don't know anything about the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to caffeine. Here is quick breakdown.

The Good: A Quick 'Pick-Me-Up'

First, caffeine is not just found in coffee; it can be found as well in sodas or in chocolate. Also, don't forget they can be found as well in those "pick-you-up" energy drinks and over-the-counter medicine.

The problem is not that you consume caffeine, but rather the amount you consume and your reaction to it.

The good thing about caffeine is that it is a central nervous system stimulant. It increases your basic metabolic rate, which helps you burn more calories (although exercise is still more effective). It temporarily increases your mental clarity, as well as your muscular coordination for activities like typing.

If you are one of many individuals dealing with breathing problems, you should probably also know that caffeine can open up air passages and help to increase respiration rates.

If you have low blood pressure, caffeine can also be a simple way to give it a modest boost. Overall, a dosage of 50 to 100mg of caffeine can have a stimulating effect on your system and increase your daily functions in life.

The Bad: An Addictive Fix

However, not all of the news is good.

If taken in excess, caffeine can be addictive in a way; to receive the same jolt you get when you first start taking it, you need to gradually increase your dose. Studies have shown that tiredness introduced by caffeine withdrawal can be fixed by additional caffeine intake.

So, you should ask yourself: When you are tired and reaching for your caffeine fix, are you giving yourself energy, or are you managing the withdrawal effect? Studies have shown that the so-called pick-me-up effect is often actually a managing of withdrawal effects springing from addiction to caffeine.

The Ugly: A Body Out of Balance

When caffeine is used in excess, your body's own mechanisms do not work as they are intended to. Our hormone levels go out of whack, leading to such symptoms as excess nervousness, irritability, insomnia, dizziness, extreme fatigue, headaches, heartburn, anxiety, hypertension, palpitations. It's enough, frankly, to make you dizzy.

But this is not the whole story.

One of the other issues is the presence of tannic acid, a mild gastrointestinal irritant, in many caffeinated beverages. Get too much of this, and it will hinder the proper absorption of nutrients and minerals that your body needs for proper functioning. These losses most likely will not be replaced with normal nutritional intake.

Many caffeinated beverages also come part and parcel with another stimulant -- sugar. For some, excessive sugar intake can overstimulate the adrenal glands, and persistent usage can even weaken them.

When your adrenal glands do not function well, fatigue sets in. Sugar and caffeine will be little help to help to increase your energy.

How Much Is Too Much?

A high intake of caffeine is 500 mg daily. A medium intake is between 250 and 500 mg and a low intake is below 250 mg. The following list of beverages and foods, along with the amount of caffeine in each serving, will help you determine the category you fall into:

Coca Cola Classic -- 34.5mg (12-ounce can)

Diet Pepsi -- 36mg (12-ounce can)

Pepsi -- 37.5mg (12-ounce can)

Diet Coke -- 46.5mg (12-ounce can)

Mountain Dew -- 54mg (12-ounce can)

Diet Pepsi Max -- 69mg (12-ounce can)

Instant Coffee -- 40-105mg (150ml cup)

Filtered Coffee -- 110-150mg (150ml cup)

Tea -- 20-100mg (150ml cup)

Starbucks Coffee, Grande -- 500mg (16-ounce cup)

Chocolate Cake -- 20-30mg (one slice)

Caffeine Pill -- 50-200mg (read label to determine exact dose)

Add up your daily intake of these beverages to determine how much caffeine you're getting.

Even if your total is below 500mg, it may not be time to breathe a sigh of relief just yet. The negative effects mentioned above can occur with as little as 100 mg caffeine intake daily. We are individuals, and everyone reacts differently. So if you think you might have issues with excessive caffeine consumption, you might want to taper your intake.

Already suffering the side effects of caffeine? If so, it is best to work with a health care professional to manage withdrawal effects such as headaches, nausea, sweating, attention problems and drowsiness.

Another solution would be to find one of the many books available that can help you go through the detoxification process.

But the best solution is to commit yourself to a lifestyle that focuses on exercise and proper nutritional intake to perform -- and look -- your best.

Stefan Aschan is a fitness consultant in New York City.