Measuring Soft Drinks’ Jolt

Researchers report what most soft-drink labels don't: how much caffeine is inside

My last “Food for Thought” column noted that elderly women may keep their wits longer by drinking lots of caffeine. In that study, the women derived their caffeine from coffee and tea. A new study offers some guidance for Golden Girls who eschew the standard caffeinated brews but still want to reap some benefit from the stimulant. Many soft drinks contain caffeine, but how much of a jolt they deliver is seldom printed on the label.

CAFFEINE TALLY. Most people know that drinking a cola will deliver a jolt of caffeine. How much of the stimulant’s in any particular beverage, however, has been a mystery until Auburn scientists measured—and published—the amounts by brand. Big surprise: The biggest jolts come from citrus-flavored soft drinks. Photodisc
CAFFEINE TALLY. Most people know that drinking a cola will deliver a jolt of caffeine. How much of the stimulant’s in any particular beverage, however, has been a mystery until Auburn scientists measured—and published—the amounts by brand. Big surprise: The biggest jolts come from citrus-flavored soft drinks. Photodisc

Enter two food scientists from Auburn (Ala.) University. In the August Journal of Food Science, they report just how much caffeine they measured in a host of carbonated beverages. The researchers provide data on 74 colas, 28 Dr. Pepper or similar-tasting beverages, 26 citrus-flavored soft drinks, and another 5 miscellaneous drinks. Most of the drinks were nationally marketed brands, but the Auburn team included 41 store-brand soft drinks.

Although colas have a reputation for their nerve-jolting caffeine, citrus-flavored drinks actually offered substantially more of the stimulant. Diet and regular colas typically delivered 30 to 34 milligrams of caffeine per 12-ounce (0.35-liter) serving, whereas regular and diet citrus drinks provided an average of 50 and 55 mg, respectively. The soft drinks richest in caffeine in the entire survey were both citrus beverages: Vault Zero at 74 mg per serving and Diet SunDrop at 71.5 mg.

Caffeine values varied widely between drinks—even within a type—observe Leonard Bell and his former Auburn colleague Ken-Hong. Chou. Because few soft drink labels report how much caffeine a beverage contains, the researchers recommend that manufacturers start reporting—and posting—these values prominently so that consumers can look for drinks that will offer the amount of caffeine they seek.

To see how your favorites stack up, check the tables below:

National Brand Cola Caffeine (mg/12 oz)
Pepsi One
57.1
Diet Cheerwine 48.1
Tab 48.1
Cheerwine 47.5
Diet RC 47.3
Diet Coke 46.3
Diet Coke with Lime 46.3
RC Cola 45.2
Diet Vanilla Coke 44.5
Shasta Cola 42.9
Faygo Cola 41.7
Diet Cherry Pepsi 40.5
Cherry Pepsi 39.7
Pepsi 38.9
Pepsi with Lime 38.4
Diet Vanilla Pepsi 38.1
Vanilla Pepsi 37.4
Diet Coke Black Cherry Vanilla 36.8
Diet Pepsi 36.7
Diet Pepsi with Lime 36.4
Coke Zero 35.8
Coca-Cola Black Cherry Vanilla 35.1
Diet Cherry Coke 35.0
Cherry Coke 34.4
Coca-Cola C2 34.4
Diet Coke with Splenda 34.4
Coca-Cola 33.9
Coke with Lime 33.6
Vanilla Coke 33.3
Red Rock Cola 26.1
Ritz Cola 10.3
Private/Store Brand Cola Caffeine (mg/12 oz)
Big Fizz Cola 46.4
Diet version 61.9
Big K Cherry Cola  43.0
Diet version 39.9
Walgreens Cola 39.2
Diet version 45.0
 Big K Cola 38.8
Diet version 30.0
Big Gulp Cola 38.0
Diet version 30.0
Chek Vanilla Cola 36.3
Diet version 28.9
 Bubba Cola 35.4
Chek Cola 34.7
Diet version 27.5
Big K Cola with Lime  30.3
 Diet version 18.6
Clover Valley Cola 28.8
Diet version 22.9
Chek Cherry Cola 26.3
Food Lion Cola 25.3
Diet version 11.9
Laura Lynn Cola 24.4
Diet version 11.3
Superchill Cola 24.2
Diet version 34.5
Publix Cola 23.1
Diet version 35.2
Rally Cola 13.3
Diet version 13.0
Piggly Wiggly Cola 12.7
Diet version 11.9
Sam’s Cola 12.7
Diet version 13.1
Publix Cherry Cola 12.4
Laura Lynn Cherry Cola 8.4
IGA Cola 4.9
Diet version 10.3
Chek Mate Diet Cola 26.2
Chek Diet Cola with Lime 45.8
“Pepper” style drinks Caffeine (mg/12 oz)
Diet Dr Pepper 44.1
Dr Pepper 42.6
Diet Dr Pepper Berries & Cream 42.0
Diet Dr. Wham 41.9
Dr. Wham 41.6
Pibb Zero 41.2
Dr Pepper Berries & Cream 41.1
Pibb Xtra 40.3
Dr. Pepper Diet Cherry Vanilla 40.1
Dr. Pepper Cherry Vanilla 39.4
Dr IGAa 59.8
Diet Dr Pop 56.8
Dr Pop 47.5
Dr K 41.2
Diet Dr K 40.7
Dr Topper 34.0
Dr Publix 31.6
Dr Bob 31.3
Mr. Pibb 31.2
Diet Dr Bob 30.9
Dr Thunder 30.6
Dr Chill 29.9
Diet Dr Thunder 29.9
Dr Chek 24.4
Diet Dr Chek 22.3
Dr Lynn 19.3
Dr Perky 18.8
Diet Dr Lynn 18.2
Other soft drinks Caffeine (mg/12 oz)
Vault Zero 74.0
Diet SunDrop 71.5
Vault Citrus 70.6
SunDrop 64.7
Diet Mountain Dew Code Red 55.4
Diet Mountain Dew 55.2
Mountain Dew 54.8
Mountain Dew Code Red 54.3
Mello Yello 49.5
Faygo Moon Mist 19.7
Chek Kountry Mist 55.1
Ramp Red 54.6
IGA Spring Mist 54.2
Publix Citrus Hite 54.1
Ramp 53.8
Mountain Chill 53.5
Chek Red Alert 53.2
Mountain Holler 53.1
Mountain Yeller 53.1
Clover Valley Citrus Drop 52.0
Sam’s Mountain Lightning 46.5
Chek Diet Kountry Mist 46.3
Mountain Lion 30.9
Laura Lynn Mt. Moon Drops 27.5
Big K Citrus Drop 26.2
Big K Diet Citrus Drop 25.1
Diet Sunkist 41.5
Sunkist 40.6
Big Red 34.0
A & W Cream Soda 28.6
Barq’s Root Beer 22.4

All tables adapted from Chou and Bell, Jrnl. Food Sci. Vol. 72, No. 6.

Janet Raloff

Janet Raloff is the editor of Science News for Students, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer.

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