…and other coffee insights!
It is the second most consumed beverage in the world (#1 is water), it is dark and tasty, comes in all kinds of different variations…and many of us can’t get started in the morning without it: Coffee!
There is a lot of controversy about coffee: Some claim it’s healthy, others urge you to give it up altogether, and there are many different opinions on how much of it is good for you, and how much is too much. As usual, there is no universal right or wrong – your unique body type dictates what’s healthy for you and what isn’t!
So instead of standing in line at Starbucks every morning without even thinking about it, or condemning coffee forever because some health guru said it’s bad for you, I encourage you to listen to your own body and form your own opinion. I hope that this article will provide some useful information and tips concerning the dark brew! 😉
First of all, let’s talk about why caffeine actually keeps you awake! Caffeine molecules fit on the adenosine receptors in our brain, adenosine being a neurotransmitter that signals our bodies that it’s time to slow down and prepare for a nap or a good night’s sleep. When these adenosine receptors are blocked by caffeine molecules, our brain doesn’t get the signal that it’s time to take a break, and therefore we stay awake!
Now here’s the catch: When we regularly drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages, especially in high amounts or late in the day, our body starts to build additional adenosine receptors and releases even more of this neurotransmitter in order to bring back balance to the system. After all, we still need to get to sleep every night in order to function properly!
Unfortunately, the additional amounts of adenosine make us feel extra tired when we DON’T drink our regular amount of coffee – the whole sleep and wake system is out of balance! (This is a simplified explanation.)
If you stick to your one or two cups of coffee every day, your body most likely finds ways to keep the system in balance. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, prone to anxiety or going through stressful times however, you can quickly land in a not so healthy cycle of growing dependency, needing more and more caffeine to feel awake, and feeling more and more tired and burned out over time.
I love the taste and feel of coffee and would love to simply have a cup every morning without complications…but I’m sensitive to caffeine and my systems get thrown out of balance easily. That one cup would often lose its effectiveness quickly, and I’d need more and more tea and coffee throughout the day to stay awake, feeling exhausted and tired even after a good night’s sleep. So, I’m definitely one of those people who have to be careful with caffeine!
Next, let’s take a look at some pros and cons of coffee drinking, starting with possible health benefits that are mainly based on its high levels of antioxidants. Coffee may:
- improve immune functioning
- reduce inflammation in the body
- have anti-aging effects
- balance cholesterol levels
- reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and strokes
- improve brain functioning and alertness
- protect against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s
- lower the risk of getting type 2 diabetes
- improve physical performance
- protect against cancer
- fight depression
Pretty impressive, right? But here’s the other side of the coin, the potential risks and dangers of coffee consumption. Coffee, especially when consumed excessively, could also:
- increase anxiety
- lead to insomnia
- make you feel jittery
- cause hormone imbalances
- impact muscles and nerve signalling
- contribute to adrenal fatigue
- increase the risk for osteoporosis
- lead to dehydration, which can cause headaches, brain fog and bad skin
- cause food cravings by impacting your blood sugar levels
- cause stomach problems due to high acidity
- cause high levels of dependency
Another problem with coffee is that it’s often contaminated with tons of pesticides and chemicals, and that many conventional coffee beverages are full of processed sugar, artificial flavors, preservatives and low-quality dairy products. A grande Vanilla Frappuccino from Starbucks brings it to 430 calories and 69 grams of sugar – which equals approximately 17 teaspoons of sugar! This will definitely eliminate any possible health benefits…
Secondly, let’s talk about the amount of caffeine you’re consuming. Drip coffee has the highest amounts of caffeine. Dark roasts generally have lower amounts than light roasts, as caffeine is removed during the roasting process. Espresso and cold brew coffee contain the least caffeine, so if you’re sensitive to the stimulant these might be better options for you. They also have the added benefit of being less acidic and easier on the digestive tract than regular coffee.
So what if you want to reduce your coffee intake or quit drinking it altogether?
Many coffee drinkers get offended, scared and frantic at the idea of giving up their daily cup of Joe – for good reason: Coffee causes high levels of dependency and the withdrawal symptoms can be horrible! I personally go through phases of drinking coffee and not having any at all. Usually when life gets busy or stressful I get back in the habit of drinking coffee – once I decide to go back to tea again, I have to be prepared to feel tired and irritated for a couple weeks, and I get pretty bad headaches. It usually takes me a while of “I should really drink less coffee…” before I actually start the process of weaning off because I so dread the withdrawal symptoms!
However, at some point you just gotta do it! And I usually do feel better after I made it back to green tea only 😉 Here are a few tips for those of you who are thinking about quitting coffee that have worked well for me in the past:
- Time it right. Don’t try and quit caffeine when you’re really busy – start on a holiday weekend or a slower time at work to make it as easy as possible on yourself.
- Drink a ton of water. Seriously, when you think you’re drinking a lot, drink even more. I drink up to a gallon of water each day to combat withdrawal headaches during the first week of reducing my caffeine intake!
- Take a ginseng supplement. Ginseng helps improve brain functioning, provides stable energy and has anti-inflammatory properties. It can help prevent withdrawal headaches – but only if you take it before they start!
- Don’t quit cold turkey! There may be a handful of super hardy people out there who have successfully quit coffee from one day to the next, but for most people this will only trigger terrible withdrawal symptoms that’ll have you stand back in line at your favorite coffee shop after 2 or 3 days! Here are three different ways to wean off caffeine slowly:
1) Switch to black tea and mate tea, later green tea and finally herbal tea. Tea still contains caffeine to curb the withdrawal symptoms, but significantly less than coffee.
2) This one works well when you drink the same amount of coffee every day: Start diluting your coffee with water. For example, if you drink 12 oz of coffee in the morning, dilute 10 oz of coffee with 2 oz of water. Stick with this ratio for 3-5 days; it’s imperative that you give your body time to get used to the lesser amount of caffeine! For some people this will happen pretty quickly, for others (like me), it’ll take a bit longer. Next, dilute 9 oz of coffee with 3 oz of water. Again, stick with this ratio for a couple days, then dilute your coffee even further and further, until you’re at hot water only, at which point you can switch to herbal teas or coffee replacements such as Dandy Blend.
3) This is my favorite way of weaning off coffee, as it keeps you accountable and works even when you’re not drinking the same amount of caffeine every day. I can have coffee one day, only tea the next, coffee AND tea the day after, and so on…I’m pretty spontaneous about my caffeine intake! So here’s how it works:
Download a caffeine tracker app for your smartphone…the one I’m using on my android is called Kofe+, but there are several different options, I’m sure for iPhones, too. Enter each caffeinated beverage you’re having to keep track of how many milligrams of caffeine you are consuming each day. Set a realistic limit to stay within. For example, say you’re starting at 250mg per day. Set your limit to 230mg and stick with that for 3-5 days. Then lower the limit to, say 200mg and keep it there for a couple days. Continue decreasing your caffeine intake over the course of several weeks until you’re at your desired daily amount.
Great, let me give you a little summary and then let you go so you can reflect on your own relationship with caffeine! 😉
- If you choose to drink coffee, try to stick to organic coffee, and have it either black or with a small amount of milk or cream (ideally organic as well).
- Drip coffee has the highest amounts of caffeine, espresso and cold brew coffee have the lowest amounts
- Espresso and cold brew coffee are less acidic than drip coffee
- Caffeine is dehydrating, so make sure to have an extra glass of water with each cup of coffee or tea
- If you are looking to reduce your coffee intake, do so gradually and over time
- coffee has many potential health benefits if you tolerate it well; if you’re sensitive to caffeine or prone to anxiety and hormonal imbalances, you may want to consider reducing your coffee consumption.
And that’s my take on coffee! 😉 Please share in the comments below: What, if anything, is something new or surprising you learned in this article that you didn’t know before?
Enjoy your hot beverage of the day, no matter if it’s caffeinated or not! 😉