For many of us, coffee is an essential part of our day. But there are ways of getting the energy-boosting benefits of coffee from other healthy, caffeine-free alternatives, without the pesky side effects.
Up until a few months ago, I would drink coffee pretty much all day, everyday, so much so I found myself drinking 5-6 cups a day and not one single glass of water!! I know, very bad!! I found myself suffering with headaches, increased anxiety and disrupted sleep. At time when I was suffering with these symptoms, I was putting it down to lockdown life, the cold winter weather and general day to day stress of working in a hospital.
When I finally come to realise that it may not have just been those external factors, I realised that I was drinking excessive amounts of caffeine and began to think surely, this is not good for me. I began to delved a little deeper into just how much coffee is too much coffee, and it was worth checking out. I asked nutritional experts for their insights into coffee’s adverse effects, and alternative ways to experience the benefits.
WHY CONSIDER CUTTING DOWN ON COFFEE?
Ever wonder why coffee affects you differently from someone else? There may be a genetic factor at work. The gene called CYP1A2 determines if a person is a slow or fast metaboliser of caffeine, and some people have a gene variant that doesn’t let them tolerate caffeine at all. While coffee does make us feel more awake, this alertness is caused by the caffeine in it triggering your body’s fight or flight mode and releasing adrenaline, according to holistic nutritionist and health coach Cheryl Telfer. “Constantly drinking caffeine can lead to adrenal fatigue,” she continues, which in turn can cause “chronic migraines, raised blood pressure, hormone imbalances, anxiety, stress and disrupted sleep.”
Connor O'Brien Personal Trainer and Nutritional expert goes on to say that drinking too much coffee can also cause you to become over-reliant on the caffeine in it to keep you going throughout the day.
HOW MIGHT ALTERNATIVES TO COFFEE BE BETTER FOR YOU?
Thankfully, there are ways to avoid these side effects from your daily energy fix, by looking to healthier, caffeine-free alternatives to coffee. These are far less likely to “build up the reliance on caffeine that some people experience when drinking coffee regularly,” and they can also “provide nutritional benefits beyond boosting your energy.”
Alternatives like fresh vegetable and fruit juices, for example, are really nourishing for the body and energise you quicker. This has to do with the fact that they don’t contain fibre, which means that the energy-rich vitamins, minerals and fructose within these fruits and vegetables will enter the bloodstream quicker. "Who would have thought!"
Adaptogenic herbs such as ginseng and Rhodiola rosea are another good option, because they help increase energy and enhance your mental functions and physical stamina. Other healthier alternatives to coffee recommended are apples, bananas, carb-rich foods like oatmeal, protein-rich food like beans, and nuts such as walnuts. Having a “diverse diet” full of whole foods such as these “will aid in helping overall energy throughout the day,” says Cheryl.
ARE THERE ANY OTHER BENEFITS TO GETTING YOUR ENERGY FIX FROM ALTERNATIVE SOURCES?
One of the greatest benefits of switching out the coffee for healthier, decaffeinated alternatives is that it will help you avoid that dreaded adrenal fatigue. This in turn “will help with avoiding addictive behaviours that can come with physically and emotionally relying on one food for an energy boost.” This is important because physically, this sort of dependence “is taxing on the body, causing hormonal imbalances,” and “emotionally it is important not to let any food feel like it has a hold on you.”
IS IT SAFE TO DRINK COFFEE DURING PREGNANCY?
There was a lot of conflicting evidence over this debate and I still think there needs to be more robust research.
Many observational studies have suggested that it is unwise to drink coffee (or indeed any drink containing caffeine) during pregnancy. This was interesting as according to The NHS, the NICE guidelines, and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) set a safe level of caffeine at 200 mg caffeine, which approximates to roughly two cups of moderate-strength coffee per day.
I found one of the main messages was that you don't have to completely kick your caffeine habit once you're expecting a baby. It's true that in the past, pregnant women were advised to avoid coffee and other forms of caffeine entirely, but newer research has found that moderate amounts are safe, as long as you take a few precautions.
Coffee in particular can make you poop, so if you already find yourself running to the toilet, you may want to put coffee on the “do not drink” list until baby makes his arrival.
And whereas you once would have been able to down three cups of coffee a day without issue, you may now find that even one small cup worsens your heartburn or gives you the shakes or jitters. Some women also find the taste changes during pregnancy.
One note of caution: It’s possible that too much caffeine during pregnancy can impact your body’s ability to absorb iron, which can increase your risk of iron deficiency or anemia. If you already suffer from low iron levels, you may want to cut caffeine out entirely while pregnant. Talk to your doctor if you're concerned.
Coffee alternatives I LOVE:
Organic Superfood Mix wit Guarana
This all natural and nutrient-dense superfood is an excellent source of antioxidants (ORAC 16500 μmol TE) and caffeine (39mg/5g). The mix is high in vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamin A, Calcium, Iron, Potassium and Zinc. It has a slightly nutty, berry taste and is great on its own or mixed into smoothies.
Lemon water can help you wake up in the morning without caffeine! It’s refreshing and uplifting and has many health benefits too. Lemon water can help with digestion, weight management, immune function (the vitamin C gives a little boost), and it helps hydrate first thing in the morning so the body can eliminate cellular waste.
Coconut water is naturally high in electrolytes which helps keep the body hydrated. It’s naturally sweet too which can be a nice choice for those who prefer their coffee sweet. You can also try coconut water kefir, which is fermented coconut water. It’s still high in electrolytes but also contains many probiotics which are important for overall health.
To drink or not to drink....
Don't get me wrong, I still love to enjoy a coffee!! Whether you tolerate coffee or not, taking a break from coffee (and the caffeine it contains) can be beneficial for anybody. Coffee breaks, meetings, and dates are a huge part of our day to day routine so many of us (me included) are reluctant to give it up entirely. However, coffee/caffeine dependence is pretty common and simply trying a different morning beverage (even just sometimes) can make a huge difference!
Written by Faye Bowen