9 Sneaky Foods You May Not Realize Contain Caffeine

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For many folks, getting the day rolling is a caffeine-powered ritual. Whether it's a cup of joe, a soothing tea, or even an energy drink, that dose of caffeine is non-negotiable. On the flip side, there are those who've got a "no caffeine after a certain hour" rule or have sworn off it altogether, often due to sensitivities or sleep troubles. But whether you're riding the caffeine wave or paddling against it, there's a whole world of foods with caffeine that many folks aren't clued into.

Beyond giving you that jolt you need to get your day started, there are an impressive number of health benefits associated with caffeine. “Caffeine may enhance memory, concentration, and cognitive performance, as well as have a positive impact on mood and reduce the risk of depression,” says Crystal Scott, RD, a registered dietitian with Top Nutrition Coaching. This would make sense given that caffeine-containing beverages often help many of us move through our mid-day slump.

Experts In This Article

This stimulant is also well-known to help us overcome feelings of fatigue in both everyday life and athletic endeavors. Plus, “caffeine can improve endurance, strength, and overall exercise performance,” Scott explains. But maybe one of the most surprising perks of caffeine is that it may help to champion heart health when consumed in moderation. This is thanks to a handful of mechanisms throughout the body. “Some studies suggest that moderate caffeine consumption may be associated with a reduced risk of certain cardiovascular conditions, such as heart disease, heart failure, and stroke,” shares Scott. This is likely due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties many common sources of caffeine hold, as well as the vasodilation effect it has. “This means that caffeine can temporarily widen blood vessels, which may lead to improved blood flow and better circulation,” Scott says.

However, with all of these perks, the benefits are dependent on the dose, as “excessive consumption of caffeine can have negative effects,” Scott emphasizes. What may some of these negative impacts be? Well, the most common ones you may be able to guess from personal experience, like jitteriness, anxiety, and trouble sleeping. Dehydration can also become a concern as caffeine is a well-known diuretic, causing the body to excrete more water. Plus, caffeine can suppress your appetite, and while some may perceive this as a benefit, this side effect can tamper with your body’s natural hunger cues that should be listened to.

However, with excessive caffeine use, there can be more long-lasting symptoms. One of which is digestive concerns. “Overuse of caffeine can cause digestive discomfort, including acid reflux and stomach upset,” Scott says. Another is actually dependency on this common-place stimulant, which can cause emotional turmoil and even withdrawal symptoms when a caffeine habit isn’t properly curbed.

So where is the sweet spot with caffeine?

“For most healthy adults, moderate caffeine consumption of between 300–500 milligrams (mg) per day is considered safe and does not pose health risks for most individuals,” offers Scott. “However, individual sensitivity to caffeine varies, and some people may need to limit their intake to avoid negative effects.”

Meanwhile, one study found that caffeine intake over 500 mg per day was associated with diuretic effects. Given all this information, I personally don’t often recommend anyone to regularly consume more than 300 mg of caffeine per day, which is somewhere between two and three cups of coffee, depending on how strong it’s been brewed.

Scott says to pay attention to how caffeine affects your body, and if you experience sleep disturbances, anxiety, or other adverse effects, consider reducing your intake and always consult a health-care professional if you have specific health concerns or questions about caffeine consumption.

9 foods with caffeine you may not realize

Foods containing guarana

Guarana is a plant found in the Amazon rainforest that naturally contains caffeine. In fact, the seeds of this plant contain up to four times the amount of caffeine as coffee beans. So, if you see guarana on an ingredients list, know that you’ll likely be getting a healthy dose of caffeine. Though, with that said, many products containing guarana are aimed at boosting energy levels, like energy drinks and supplements, so it’s unlikely the effects of this plant will take you by surprise.

Decaffeinated coffee

Yes, you read that right, decaffeinated coffee can indeed contain caffeine. In fact, one 2006 study analyzed 10 different decaf coffee samples and found the caffeine levels ranged from undetectable to almost 14 mg of caffeine per 16 ounces. Considering an eight-ounce cup of brewed regular coffee can contain around 95 mg, this is nothing to scoff at, especially if you’re sensitive to caffeine or opt for decaf as a nightcap.

Chocolate cake

Sure, you may know that dark chocolate can pack a punch when it comes to caffeine levels (there’s about 24 mg in one ounce), but did you know that popular chocolate desserts can contain caffeine too? While you may not think that a dessert like a decadent chocolate cake could really offer much caffeine after the chocolate has been diluted with copious amounts of sugar, flour, and butter, there are still notable amounts left over for those who are sensitive. In one regular-sized slice, you can find anywhere between four and six milligrams of caffeine.

Matcha desserts

Whether it’s matcha ice cream, mochi, or mousse, as the popularity of this pulverized green tea grows, so do the dessert options highlighting it. But just as a matcha latte will offer caffeine, so will any sweet treats containing it. For example, Haagen-Dazs’ Matcha Green Tea ice cream is said to have up to 25 mg of caffeine per half cup.

Yerba mate

Yerba mate is a traditional herbal tea that originated in South America and is made by steeping the leaves from the yerba mate plant in boiling water. But don’t let the “herbal” aspect of this tea deceive you when it comes to caffeine as it can contain up to 80 mg per cup, rivaling coffee. And yerba mate isn’t only enjoyed as a beverage, many food companies are adding it to their products now, too.

Energy bars

While many may think the energy in energy bars comes from satisfying ingredients like complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and protein, some provide their boost through caffeine. There are so many brands of energy bars and chews containing caffeine on the market these days, like Jimmy! Boosted Clean Protein Bars and PROBAR Bolt Organic Energy Chews, which contain 20 mg of caffeine per pack. Plus, if your favorite bar is chocolate-flavored, you’re bound to be getting an extra caffeine boost as well.

Bottled water

This one may have inspired a double take…but indeed bottle water can contain caffeine. While regular bottled waters likely won’t, there are actually brands available that intentionally include the stimulant. One of them is Water Joe which offers 700 milliliter bottles containing 85 milligrams of caffeine, nearly as much as a regular cup of joe, but without the coffee breath.


Health foodies can’t seem to get enough of kombucha, and it makes sense given the impressive probiotic punch some brands can pack. But many don’t realize that there is caffeine to be found in this trendy beverage, as it’s made from black tea. Most varieties will contain somewhere between 10 and 15 mg of caffeine per serving.

Breakfast cereal

And finally, we have our last sneaky caffeine food, breakfast cereal. While the amounts are usually modest, typically less than 5 mg per serving, there is still caffeine to be found in some of these morning favorites. Chocolate-y cereals are going to be your biggest culprits, thanks to the cocoa they contain.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
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  2. Spriet, Lawrence L. “Exercise and sport performance with low doses of caffeine.” Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.) vol. 44 Suppl 2,Suppl 2 (2014): S175-84. doi:10.1007/s40279-014-0257-8
  3. Ősz, Bianca-Eugenia, et al. “Caffeine and Its Antioxidant Properties—It Is All about Dose and Source.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, vol. 23, no. 21, Oct. 2022, p. 13074. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms232113074.
  4. Zhang, Yang et al. “Caffeine and diuresis during rest and exercise: A meta-analysis.” Journal of science and medicine in sport vol. 18,5 (2015): 569-74. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2014.07.017
  5. Meredith, Steven E et al. “Caffeine Use Disorder: A Comprehensive Review and Research Agenda.” Journal of caffeine research vol. 3,3 (2013): 114-130. doi:10.1089/jcr.2013.0016
  6. Seal, Adam D et al. “Coffee with High but Not Low Caffeine Content Augments Fluid and Electrolyte Excretion at Rest.” Frontiers in nutrition vol. 4 40. 18 Aug. 2017, doi:10.3389/fnut.2017.00040
  7. Schimpl, Flávia Camila et al. “Guarana: revisiting a highly caffeinated plant from the Amazon.” Journal of ethnopharmacology vol. 150,1 (2013): 14-31. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2013.08.023
  8. Moustakas, Dimitrios et al. “Guarana provides additional stimulation over caffeine alone in the planarian model.” PloS one vol. 10,4 e0123310. 16 Apr. 2015, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0123310
  9. Rachel R. McCusker et al. “Caffeine Content of Decaffeinated Coffee.” Journal of Analytical Toxicology, vol. 30,8. Oct. 2006, doi:10.1093/jat/30.8.611
  10. Gawron-Gzella, Anna et al. “Yerba Mate-A Long but Current History.” Nutrients vol. 13,11 3706. 21 Oct. 2021, doi:10.3390/nu13113706

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