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9 Things You Should Know About Your Caffeine Habit

A chat with Murray Carpenter, author of the book "Caffeinated: How Our Habit Helps, Hurts, and Hooks Us"

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"But I should note: Lipton, for example, they label the amount of caffeine. A number of tea manufacturers are starting to do this. They seem to be pretty close to the amount tea typically has. It's not impossible for coffee and tea to start doing this. And for the products where caffeine is blended in very specific amounts, I don't see any reason consumers should be left in the dark."

4. Your grandparents probably drank twice as much coffee as you do.

"They were taking twice as many beans, meaning they were actually drinking more caffeine, too. We like to think of ourselves as a supercaffeinated culture, but our grandparents were more caffeinated than we were. I think one of the reasons is counterintuitive: We make a much bigger deal out of coffee than they did. We think of ourselves as coffee lovers. For their generation, it was just like, yeah, gimme a cup of coffee."

5. Pro athletes everywhere  depend on caffeine—which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"I used to race bikes, and we used to drink a strong cup of coffee back then before a race. When I work out, I still like to be somewhat caffeinated. I think it helps me work out more vigorously, and I think a lot of people do. The ethics of it are really fascinating; it's definitely complex. What's changed in the past 30 years, since I was racing bikes seriously, is that you have  much more specificity now in how people are able to take caffeine. You can quantify your dose, and there are products like gels that can help give the athlete caffeine in very specific doses."

6. Keurig cups—those little disposable, single-serve cups of coffee with a special dispenser—are here to stay. As Carpenter writes in Caffeinated: "The 2011 production of K-Cups, lined up end to end, would encircle the equator six times—a foot-wide belt of plastic, foil, and coffee around the planet."

"At the time I did  a story for the New York Times about the environmental impacts of K-cups, Green Mountain was in the middle of doing an environmental analysis of the entire flow of coffee through K-cup through landfill to see if it was indeed more wasteful. It's probably not as cut-and-dried as we first think. You're able to extract the coffee more efficiently than, say, through a cone in your house. If you do a full life-cycle analysis, it probably doesn't look as bad as you would think.

"But certainly on the waste end, like downstream from your house, it doesn't look good. And I think people have been pretty critical of the single-serving phenomenon for that reason. They experimented with different things: looked at renewable plastics, K-cups with paper tops and stuff like that. But it's really difficult to make it impermeable. The thing you have to do is keep oxygen out, and it's really hard to do that with any ecofriendly product. At least at the time I did that story, Newman's Own Organics' single top selling product was K-cups. Nell Newman has been a very forceful advocate of minimizing packaging. So some interesting questions there."

7. Mixing caffeine and alcohol hasn't been proven to be inherently unhealthy.

But the resulting behaviors can be dangerous, potentially even fatal. 
"From a health perspective, being stimulated could allow you to drink more than you might otherwise. You might otherwise pass out sooner. There's still research going on in that area, for what it's worth. I haven't seen that there's some synergistic effect that's going to blow your brain apart when you mix caffeine and alcohol. Still, not a great idea."

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