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Food for Thought

Janet Raloff
Food for Thought

Measuring Soft Drinks' Jolt

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

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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.

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 ColaCaffeine (mg/12 oz)
Pepsi One
Diet Cheerwine48.1
Diet RC47.3
Diet Coke46.3
Diet Coke with Lime46.3
RC Cola45.2
Diet Vanilla Coke44.5
Shasta Cola42.9
Faygo Cola41.7
Diet Cherry Pepsi40.5
Cherry Pepsi39.7
Pepsi with Lime38.4
Diet Vanilla Pepsi38.1
Vanilla Pepsi37.4
Diet Coke Black Cherry Vanilla36.8
Diet Pepsi36.7
Diet Pepsi with Lime36.4
Coke Zero35.8
Coca-Cola Black Cherry Vanilla35.1
Diet Cherry Coke35.0
Cherry Coke34.4
Coca-Cola C234.4
Diet Coke with Splenda34.4
Coke with Lime33.6
Vanilla Coke33.3
Red Rock Cola26.1
Ritz Cola10.3
Private/Store Brand ColaCaffeine (mg/12 oz)
Big Fizz Cola46.4
Diet version 61.9
Big K Cherry Cola 43.0
Diet version39.9
Walgreens Cola39.2
Diet version45.0
 Big K Cola38.8
Diet version30.0
Big Gulp Cola38.0
Diet version30.0
Chek Vanilla Cola36.3
Diet version28.9
 Bubba Cola35.4
Chek Cola34.7
Diet version27.5
Big K Cola with Lime 30.3
 Diet version18.6
Clover Valley Cola28.8
Diet version22.9
Chek Cherry Cola26.3
Food Lion Cola25.3
Diet version11.9
Laura Lynn Cola24.4
Diet version11.3
Superchill Cola24.2
Diet version34.5
Publix Cola23.1
Diet version35.2
Rally Cola13.3
Diet version13.0
Piggly Wiggly Cola12.7
Diet version11.9
Sam's Cola12.7
Diet version13.1
Publix Cherry Cola12.4
Laura Lynn Cherry Cola8.4
IGA Cola4.9
Diet version10.3
Chek Mate Diet Cola26.2
Chek Diet Cola with Lime45.8
"Pepper" style drinksCaffeine (mg/12 oz)
Diet Dr Pepper44.1
Dr Pepper42.6
Diet Dr Pepper Berries & Cream42.0
Diet Dr. Wham41.9
Dr. Wham41.6
Pibb Zero41.2
Dr Pepper Berries & Cream41.1
Pibb Xtra40.3
Dr. Pepper Diet Cherry Vanilla40.1
Dr. Pepper Cherry Vanilla39.4
Dr IGAa59.8
Diet Dr Pop56.8
Dr Pop47.5
Dr K41.2
Diet Dr K40.7
Dr Topper34.0
Dr Publix31.6
Dr Bob31.3
Mr. Pibb31.2
Diet Dr Bob30.9
Dr Thunder30.6
Dr Chill29.9
Diet Dr Thunder29.9
Dr Chek24.4
Diet Dr Chek22.3
Dr Lynn19.3
Dr Perky18.8
Diet Dr Lynn18.2
Other soft drinksCaffeine (mg/12 oz)
Vault Zero74.0
Diet SunDrop71.5
Vault Citrus70.6
Diet Mountain Dew Code Red55.4
Diet Mountain Dew55.2
Mountain Dew54.8
Mountain Dew Code Red54.3
Mello Yello49.5
Faygo Moon Mist19.7
Chek Kountry Mist55.1
Ramp Red54.6
IGA Spring Mist54.2
Publix Citrus Hite54.1
Mountain Chill53.5
Chek Red Alert53.2
Mountain Holler53.1
Mountain Yeller53.1
Clover Valley Citrus Drop52.0
Sam's Mountain Lightning46.5
Chek Diet Kountry Mist46.3
Mountain Lion30.9
Laura Lynn Mt. Moon Drops27.5
Big K Citrus Drop26.2
Big K Diet Citrus Drop25.1
Diet Sunkist41.5
Big Red34.0
A & W Cream Soda28.6
Barq's Root Beer22.4

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


Leonard N. Bell

Department of Nutrition and Food Science

260 Lem Morrison Drive

Auburn University

Auburn, AL 36849
Further Reading

Raloff, J. 2007. Caffeine aids golden girls' mental health. Science News Online 172 (Aug. 18). Available at [Go to].

Ritchie, K., et al. 2007. The neuroprotective effects of caffeine: A prospective study (the Three City Study). Neurology 69(Aug. 7):536-545. Abstract available at [Go to].

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