Coffee is the most popular beverage consumed in the early hours of the day by Americans and many other people across the world. It’s also a major source of caffeine, and like all other sources of caffeine, too much can have negative effects on our health over time.
The good news is that coffee does have some health benefits when consumed in moderation. It contains some of the highest levels of antioxidants of all foods and drinks consumed in the United States and has been consistently linked to many health benefits. These include preventing Parkinson’s disease, lowering the rates of depression (especially in women), and contributing to liver health. It has even been shown to have cardiovascular benefits as well, promoting healthy arteries when consumed in moderation.
Too much caffeine can lead to headaches, anxiety, and high blood pressure. It can also lead to insomnia and poor quality sleep.
Unfortunately, coffee can have negative effects as well. Too much caffeine can lead to headaches, anxiety, and high blood pressure. It can also lead to insomnia and poor quality sleep, which leave you feeling so tired during the day that you drink more coffee to stay awake, creating a vicious cycle of dependence and increasing fatigue. Finally, for those who insist on adding sugar, dairy, and/or oil-based creamers to your coffee, you are further undermining any health benefits the coffee might have provided. Caffeine, sugar, and dairy all have addictive properties, which tend to lead to greater consumption over time and are ultimately detrimental to your physical and mental well-being.
Because of its addictive properties, cutting out coffee can be a challenge for many people, but don’t lose hope. If you’re looking to reduce or eliminate coffee from your diet, here are three simple strategies that might help.
Caffeine-free coffee alternatives containing roasted barley, rye, and chicory root are popular substitutes for many former coffee enthusiasts. These alternatives are favored for their robust, coffee-like flavors, and some provide health benefits as well. For example, chicory root is naturally sweet and a great source of inulin, a soluble fiber that can help prevent diabetes, regulate digestion, and help maintain beneficial gut bacteria. Note however that too much inulin—as with too much fiber of any kind—can also lead to bloating, gas, and serious digestive upset, so watch your intake and listen to your body. Also keep in mind that barley and rye contain gluten, and may not be suitable for those with gluten sensitivity. However, many people enjoy these coffee alternatives; they are completely caffeine-free, and they may be just the thing to help you kick the habit. They are sold under brand names such as Dandy Blend, Teeccino, Cafix, and several others. Always read the ingredients lists of any product you purchase before deciding it’s right for you.
Another unique coffee alternative—one that’s my personal favorite—is roasted cocoa beans, which are ground and brewed just like coffee. Crio Brü is one of the most reputable and popular brands. Containing virtually no caffeine—trace amounts, less than decaffeinated coffee—and no additives of any kind, brewed cocoa beans have a wonderful flavor that’s very similar to coffee. It’s also calorie-free and gluten-free, and cocoa is also rich in antioxidants, delivering the health benefits of dark chocolate without the added fat or sugar. I actually like to mix this product with my coffee, adding one scoop of each to my coffee maker, which reduces my total coffee intake. The resulting beverage is like a healthy, reduced-caffeine version of a mocha.
For some, quitting coffee cold turkey after habitually drinking several cups a day can be too hard. It’s also not optimal or suggested to take something out of your routine without replacing it with a better option, and caffeine withdrawal can produce unpleasant side effects. So take it a cup at a time for optimal success.
Start by cutting your coffee to one less cup than you drink now. If you typically drink more than one cup of coffee in a row, try switching to an alternative beverage after the first cup. For many people, just having something warm to drink can solve the problem of missing coffee and curb the impulse to drink it cup after cup. When you’re ready—perhaps a week to a month later—reduce your coffee consumption by another cup and perhaps even try switching to one of the tea options below.
Tea is an often overlooked source of antioxidants and comes in so many wonderful varieties, both with caffeine and without.
One that I love is matcha tea, a high quality, unroasted, green tea that comes in powdered form. It does contain some caffeine, but it is high in chlorophyll, antioxidants, and has an unmatched flavor. While regular green tea is made by steeping the leaves in hot water and then removing them, matcha tea powder is so fine that it is stirred directly into the water with a whisk. Thus, you actually consume the leaves giving you even more of the benefits. Be sure to purchase a high-quality, bright green matcha that’s also organically processed. Encha, Do Matcha, Tao of Tea, and Eden are just a few of the high-quality organic brands available. Matcha can be expensive, however, so regular green tea is still a great option if you’re on a budget.
In addition to Camellia sinensis—the original “tea” plant native to Asia and consumed all over the world—there are a number of other plants that are prepared like tea and provide similar benefits. One of them is yerba maté, which is native to South America. Often just called maté for short, it contains more caffeine than green tea—about 80 mg per serving vs just 35 mg for green tea—but less than coffee. It is also rich in antioxidants and is full of health benefits. Guayaki is one organic, fair-trade certified brand that I recommend. Look for the air-dried, unsmoked variety for the safest option (to reduce exposure to potential toxins from smoked varieties) and brew it just like you would coffee—either in a French press or in a drip-style maker. Yerba maté has a nutty, green, smoky flavor that is really nice. You may want to add a healthy sweetener, lemon, or plant-milk, or you can drink it plain. However, keep in mind that it is a source of caffeine and shouldn’t be over consumed or relied on all day long for energy. Have a cup in the morning or early afternoon when you would normally consume coffee if you feel this option is right for you.
Finally, consider other caffeine free “teas” like peppermint, which is calming but still gently stimulating. Another variety you might enjoy is rooibos (ROY-boss) tea—also called red bush tea—which has a delicious sweet flavor with zero calories or sugar. It too is a great source of antioxidants and health promoting compounds. You might also try ginger tea or other natural, fruit-flavored, herbal teas. All of these can be enjoyed hot or cold, depending on your preference and lifestyle needs.
Quitting coffee isn’t easy, but doing so might provide you with some health benefits that make it worth the effort. Quitting coffee can lead to better sleep, increased productivity, increased energy levels, improved mood, and can reduce inflammation and eliminate your dependency on caffeine over time. You might even see benefits in your skin, digestive health, blood pressure, and more. Of course, everyone is different, and coffee can work well for some if consumed in small amounts.
If you choose to stick with coffee, purchase the highest quality coffee you can find, and enjoy it in moderation. For optimal health benefits, drink it black, or enjoy it with an organic or non-GMO unsweetened plant-milk (e.g. soy milk, almond milk, or cashew milk). Before adding anything to your coffee, be sure to look at the ingredients and make sure you’re not about to pollute your beverage with unhealthy oils, sugars, or dairy by-products. If you must add sweetener, use a high quality natural sweetener like maple syrup, coconut sugar, date sugar, or organic stevia extract, and use as little as possible.
If you’ve successfully quit coffee or reduced your consumption, feel free to share a tip in the comments that has proven successful for you!
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