With Panera Bread's "Charged Lemonade" linked to two deaths, it's fair to ask: Is it safe? The short answer is yes. However, it's all about being a conscious consumer of caffeine. Here's what to know when it comes to imbibing stimulant-filled drinks, and how Charged Lemonade ranks against other beverages like coffee, tea, chocolate milk and more.
Some background: The Panera lawsuits
Panera Bread is entangled in several lawsuits involving its Charged Lemonade drink, which is advertised as “plant-based and clean" and contains as much caffeine as the chain's dark roast coffee. The most recent, filed by 28-year-old Rhode Island woman Lauren Skerritt, alleges the drink caused her to have “permanent cardiac injuries.” Skerritt was admitted to the emergency room the day after consuming two and a half Charged Lemonades; she reportedly had no underlying health conditions and had an athletic lifestyle prior to the incident.
Panera Bread has also been named in two wrongful death lawsuits. The first, filed in October, blames the drink for the death of University of Pennsylvania student Sarah Katz, who had a heart condition and died in September 2022 after consuming a large Charged Lemonade. The second, filed on Dec. 4, alleges that the beverage was responsible for the death of 46-year-old Dennis Brown, who suffered a fatal cardiac arrest on his way home after drinking three Charged Lemonades at a local Panera. Brown had an unspecified chromosomal deficiency disorder, a developmental delay and a mild intellectual disability, and his family says he avoided energy drinks due to high blood pressure.
At the time of Katz's lawsuit, the 30-ounce beverage that Katz consumed was listed as containing 390 mg of caffeine. But ABC News reports that the previous listing didn’t account for possible ice dilution and that Panera is updating its menus and nutritional descriptions, with the same drink now said to contain 237 mg of caffeine.
A caffeine comparison
*Panera Bread is currently in the process of updating this number to 237 mg
Curious how a Charged Lemonade compares to your favorite caffeinated drink? Here’s the caffeine content of some other popular beverages:
Panera’s Charged Lemonade: 390* mg per size-large (30 oz) drink
CELSIUS Original: 200 mg per (12 oz) can
Monster Energy: 160 mg per (16 oz) can
Brewed black coffee: 96 mg per (8 oz) cup
Red Bull Energy Drink: 80 mg per (12 oz) can
Brewed black tea: 47 mg per (8 oz) cup
Diet Coke: 46 mg per (12 oz) can
Coke: 34 mg per (12 oz) can
Brewed green tea: 28 mg per (8 oz) cup
Chocolate milk: 2.5 mg per (8 oz) cup
Brewed decaf black coffee: 2 mg per (8 oz) cup
There are some interesting takeaways here that may surprise you. For example, a Diet Coke actually has more caffeine than a regular Coke; and while a decaf coffee still contains some caffeine, it has less than a standard serving of chocolate milk.
Another big lesson is that size matters and can be instrumental in guiding how you choose to get your caffeine fix. Monster Energy’s caffeine content per ounce is about the same as the caffeine content of a cup of coffee; but because Monster Energy is sold in 16 ounce cans, with one energy drink you’re downing the equivalent of about two cups of coffee. And based on Panera’s original nutritional data, 8 ounces of a regular black coffee and 8 ounces of Panera’s Charged Lemonade have roughly the same amount of caffeine; so when you opt for a large Charged Lemonade you’re buying the equivalent of approximately four coffees in one cup.
How to caffeinate safely
The majority of healthy adults can consume 400 mg of caffeine — or about four cups of coffee — a day without any negative consequences, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Recommendations vary depending on underlying health conditions and other factors. Pregnant people, for example, shouldn’t consume more than 200 mg per day, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Advice for kids is a bit different. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that children should not have caffeinated drinks, while the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry suggests kids ages 12 and up have "at most" 100 mg a day.
But as Yahoo Life previously reported, how quickly you consume that caffeine is also significant; too much caffeine in a short amount of time can cause seizures and even death, according to the FDA.
“There are reports of caffeine toxicity from abusing energy drinks, especially in the male adolescent population, and this increased between 2004 and 2010,” Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan-UCLA Medical Center, said.
“Everyone has a unique metabolism, and even certain medications can influence how your body processes caffeine,” New York-based dietitian Jessica Cording, author of The Little Book of Game Changers added. “Starting with less is definitely better. It’s a hard cycle to break if you get into too much.”
Even for otherwise healthy individuals, too much caffeine can lead to a slew of harmful side effects, including increased heart rate, upset stomach, insomnia, jitters and anxiety.
But in safe doses, caffeine can deliver some major health benefits, including boosting mood, improving memory — and of course, providing the pick-me-up you might need to feel more alert and awake.
This article was originally published on Dec. 11, 2023 and has been updated.