Some time ago, I was involved in a meeting that was not supposed to be about food or drink. But there it was, a canard about caffeine.
Talking to a group including one registered nurse with years of experience as well as a lifestyle specialist whose expertise includes dietary knowledge, this person took on the guise of august teacher to our naïve minds and casually and with authority mentioned that caffeine dehydrates. He even name dropped “Mayo Clinic” while informing that he had made a copy of this information if we so wished to read further.
I was phoning in to the meeting, so I was unable to look at any faces. Nor was I comfortable piping up first. And so, I waited. No one spoke up, perhaps broadsided by the information? I don’t know. We all moved on, but I’ve been bothered since.
As is my way of being in the world, I took to my own private polling. Dialing up friends and family, I asked away. Do you think caffeine dehydrates you? My results were mixed. Usually after chatting it up for a bit, those who were a bit hazy on the subject admitted to not quite knowing. Several others were very right and very wrong.
An online search quickly revealed a blizzard of articles and studies suggesting, sure enough, that this news is old news. Back in 2008, “The Claim: Caffeine Causes Dehydration” in the New York Times made the case. PubMed (online database for the NIH) lists the abstract for a study conducted in 2005 called, “Fluid, electrolyte, and renal indices of hydration during 11 days of controlled caffeine consumption.” The last sentence of the abstract states, “These findings question the widely accepted notion that caffeine consumption acts chronically as a diuretic.” Even the Mayo Clinic concurs, with the caveat of findings being limited to up to seven cups a day or up to 600 milligrams. There are older studies and a paper trail leading to the culprit, a study done in the 1920’s.
While the canard bearer might have been misunderstood due to a truncated or poorly managed delivery, I don’t think so. There are folks out there who are moved more by the urge to teach than they are the urge to learn. So what? This is about as banal or—to trot out the definition—“drearily commonplace and often predictable” truths in life. But then I kept hearing little remarks about hydration, even jokingly. My suspicion is that more people than I can fathom still think that caffeine, down to the sip, robs you of fluids. And with canard handlers out there, it’s no wonder such misinformation thrives.
In what might be one of my more—no. Admittedly, I’m being very sensitive here about the ambient experience of not just caffeine but coffee in particular. I don’t want anyone to complicate the lovely, sublime, even, holy time of drinking coffee with the tainted idea that it’s just a little bad for you because it’s dehydrating you. We all have enough to worry about. And if it isn’t your coffee, it’s your beloved energy drink (if the labeling is correct, which it might not be. They’re still on par with a cup of coffee). It’s your soda. It’s even your hot cocoa. Chances are we are all a bit shame-based. All I argue is that at least in this small area of life, shed the scrap of shame or guilt or expenditure of whatnot. Drink, be merry, and forgo the water chaser. And for all that is holy, if you have nutritional information you want to share, at least do an online search before you proceed to print and speak. You never know just who is in the audience.