You love your coffee and tea, but have you also passed on that love to your child? Drinking tea or cofee regularly may not be such a great habit for children considering the effects of caffeine. Kids need a lot less for the caffeine kick to kick in and they also consume caffeine via other sources like chocolates. All in all, it may be a good idea to keep their diet low on coffee and tea.
“Finish up your milk!” Now, that’s probably said a million times by parents across the world. Milk is the tried and tested drink for growing children, with new entrants like soya milk also forming part of the daily routine. But what if your child wants to drink tea or coffee instead? Not the occasional sip from your cuppa but more like two cups a day – is that a good idea?
What’s In Your Cuppa?
Let’s start with what your morning cuppa really holds. Aside from milk and sugar, the key ingredient is the coffee bean or tea leaf. And the real reason why your body loves coffee or tea is the caffeine in it. Caffeine, though rich in antioxidants, gives the central nervous system a good jolt, leading to increased alertness and reduced fatigue, but also disturbed sleep patterns depending on when you consume it.
Story Of Caffeine
Originally called theine, caffeine was first discovered in tea. Later it was found that caffeine in coffee and theine in tea were the same, and so the term “theine” was dropped. Tea scores over coffee in caffeine content if you’re looking at the dry coffee powder or tea leaves. But once they are brewed, it’s a different story altogether.
A freshly brewed cup of tea (about 2 grams of tea per 8 ounce cup water) has about 40 mg of caffeine, while a cup of coffee (10 grams of coffee per 8 ounce cup water) has a whopping 105 mg of caffeine, making coffee the caffeine king among the two.
Tea is a more diluted drink and probably a lesser evil when you look at the caffeine in it. The caffeine effect of tea is mellowed down by L-theanine, a unique amino acid in it that acts as a relaxant and counters the kick of caffeine in the body. Tea is also richer in antioxidants that reduce the effects of caffeine. So can you give your child tea regularly? The answer is still no! After all, it is still a caffeinated drink and the caffeine fallout applies as much to it as it does to coffee.
The caffeine content of coffee is something you need to consider carefully if your child demands a cuppa. A cup of coffee may seem like a blessing when you want to pep your child up a bit, say while studying for a test, but the cons far outweigh the pros – caffeine can cause a tummy upset, anxiety, increased heart rate, nervousness, nausea, and difficulty in focussing. And for young kids, it takes a lot less caffeine than an adult to produce these reactions. That means a cup of coffee will have twice the impact when downed by your child. To boot, caffeine can aggravate these symptoms for those with heart or nervous disorders. Most parents may not even be aware of the presence of such a disorder in their child at this age.
And how much is too much? While it depends on the type of coffee roast and its strength, about 650 mg of caffeine a day (about 4 cups of regular brew) is an indicative upper limit for adults. A child’s or adolescent’s body may struggle to cope with far less than this. And remember, while you are counting the caffeine from coffee only, they are also getting their caffeine kick from sodas, chocolates, and coffee-flavoured treats like candies and ice-creams.
It’s also likely that your child has the coffee with a spoonful or more of sugar. Studies show that kids who are regular coffee (or even tea) drinkers put themselves at a greater risk for type 1 diabetes. The combined effect of caffeine and the added sugar is something to worry about.
More Bad News?
The link between maternal consumption of coffee and the risk of childhood brain tumors is also a cause for worry. Expectant moms usually go to great lengths to ensure a healthy diet that is beneficial to the growth of the fetus. But it looks like coffee can throw a wrench in the works here too. An Australian case-control study reveals that maternal coffee consumption of more than a couple of cups a day had a positive association with increased risk of childhood brain tumors in the children. More studies will need to corroborate this, but coffee fared badly while tea was not found to be harmful.
Like any mother, nutritionists too have voiced concerns that kids who fill their diet with coffee or tea drinks and other high-sugar or caffeinated beverages are most likely to reduce their consumption of more healthy foods. They just won’t be hungry enough to eat more. Increased caffeine can also lead to poor performance at school thanks to disturbed sleep cycles, anxiety, and even depression. Lack of sleep in turn can lead to an unhealthy lifestyle and increased BMI – all in all, a vicious cycle starting with a cuppa.
So, as a parent or child-care provider, keep coffee and tea consumption low or negligible for growing kids. The long-term effects are still being discovered and kids don’t really stand to gain much from a regular diet of coffee or tea. So hold on to your daily cuppa while you continue serving up that cup of milk to your kids!