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Coffee & Caffeine Alternatives


Next to water, coffee and tea are the most consumed beverages worldwide. Coffee is the dominant choice in North and South America, as well as in some northern European countries. Coffee contains more caffeine, a nervous system stimulant, than any other natural beverage which explains both the desirable and undesirable effects of the drink.

Coffee is brewed from roasted coffee beans – actually seeds not beans - of the coffea plant, heavily grown for export in tropical countries like Vietnam and Brazil, as well as some parts of southern Africa. The coffea plant is considered one of the most valuable crops grown in the world.

Health experts recommend most people consume a max of 400mg caffeine per day to help moderate intake. However, those who are genetically fast caffeine metabolizers may be able to tolerate more caffeine than slow metabolizers, with less side effects.

Caffeine content

While caffeine content varies depending on the coffee bean, roasting process, brew strength and serving size, an average cup (8.5 ounces) of coffee contains about 100mg caffeine. While it’s true that espresso contains more caffeine per ounce than brewed coffee, an espresso shot (1 serving) is very small at 1-1.75 ounces and only yields about 63 mg caffeine. For reference, black tea contains 6mg caffeine per ounce, green tea roughly half that at 3.5mg per ounce, and sodas and energy drinks vary widely, containing a range of 0-12.5mg per ounce.

Excessive caffeine Intake

It’s easy to overdo it. Caffeine is not just in coffee and tea; it’s added to a variety of commercially-available foods like bars, snacks, chewing gum and beverages. Caffeine is metabolized and excreted anywhere from 2 to 9 hours depending on the individual. Here are some potential signs of caffeine overdose.

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Thirst
  • Diarrhea
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • In severe cases, seizure

Alternatives

If you love waking up to a warm cup of coffee but the caffeine content doesn’t love you back, you have options. Here are some unsweetened alternatives that may help you start off your morning even better, or coast through the afternoon, all with health benefits, too!

Black Tea – Black tea is made from fermented leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. As mentioned previously, black tea contains considerably lower levels of caffeine than coffee, but contains many disease-fighting polyphenols. One primary polyphenol, theaflavin, has demonstrated antioxidant and detoxification abilities. Chai spice tea is made from a blend of black tea and spices such as cinnamon, cloves, ginger, peppercorns and others. Just be wary of chai tea lattes and other preparations made with added sugars.

Green or Matcha Tea – Green tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant and contains four main catechins that exert both disease-preventing and disease-fighting properties. ECGC, one such catechin, has shown remarkable anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective benefits. Matcha tea is made from delicately grown, shaded, harvested, steamed, dried, then powdered leaves of the same plant. It’s reported that matcha may contain over 100 times the catechins of regular green tea.

Herbal Tea – A wide selection of herbal teas are available with very little if any caffeine content. Peppermint tea is one of the most popular single ingredient teas with demonstrated antiviral, immunomodulating and relaxing effects on the GI tract. Cultivated from the Hibiscus sabdariffa L. plant, hibiscus tea is a non-caffeinated sour tea with demonstrated blood pressure lowering capabilities. Since coffee has been known to elevate blood pressure in some studies, hibiscus tea is an excellent alternative for those with hypertension or cardiovascular disease.

Carob – The carob plant, or Ceratonia siliqua plant, produces dark brown pea pods filled with seeds that taste like chocolate. When carob powder, derived from ground carob seeds, is mixed with warmed water or milk, a naturally sweet, and chocolate-like drink is created. Carob is fiber, calcium, and antioxidant-rich, and caffeine-free.

Chicory Coffee – Chicory root, Cichorium intybus, is a prebiotic-rich, caffeine-free plant in the dandelion family, popular in New Orleans, Louisiana. Research shows chicory root can potentially reduce inflammation, blood sugar, and improve gut health. Chicory coffee is made by roasting, grinding, and brewing the chicory root and was first reportedly used as a coffee alternative in France in the 1800’s.

Key takeaways

While coffee and caffeine is beloved around the world for its psychostimulant effects and antioxidant power, overconsumption can be problematic.

Excessive caffeine intake can over-activate the nervous system and interfere with sleep quality.

Many other healthy alternatives are available to boost your daily routine, with less side effects.

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