This is a common question for people who are trying to clean up their diet and make changes toward a healthier lifestyle. Caffeine, and coffee in particular, can be tricky when it comes to our health, and it is often the one thing people are most resistant to giving up!
So what's the down low on a cup of Joe?
Let's look at the upside first..
- Alertness and concentration - caffeine can stimulate mental alertness and help you perform cognitive tasks more quickly.
- Performance - caffeine can help you exercise harder and longer without getting exhausted. This is where the famous Yogi quip - 'No coffee, no prana' - came from!
- Muscle Recovery - caffeine can depress the sensation of post-workout muscle pain.
- Lower Risk of Developing Diabetes - caffeine may stimulate muscles to burn fat and sugar more efficiently.
- Parkinson's and Alzheimer's Prevention - caffeine keeps dopamine molecules active which can help with reducing the risk of developing these diseases.
- Asthma Relief - coffee may be used to prevent an asthma attack in emergency cases.
- Faster Effects of Medication - caffeine restricts blood vessels and helps the body absorb medications more quickly.
- High source of antioxidants - caffeine helps stabilize free radicals, thereby preventing damage to cell DNA.
Now for the negatives...
- Nutritional Deficiencies - caffeine inhibits the absorption of some nutrients in our small intestine which contributes to nutritional deficiencies. In particular, coffee causes a deficiency in B vitamins, specifically B1 (thiamine), which can make us feel fatigued, nervous and achy. Coffee also causes the urinary excretion of minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and trace minerals.
- Aging - coffee is acid-forming and dehydrating to the body which contributes to aging of the skin and kidneys, inhibits DNA repair, and taxes the liver.
- Adrenal Exhaustion - caffeine stresses the adrenal glands which can lead to inflammation, fatigue, moodiness and sugar cravings.
- Stress Levels - caffeine increases stress hormones and elevates our perception of stress throughout the day.
- Female Health Problems - caffeine exacerbates many female health issues such as PMS, infertility problems, miscarriage, hot flashes, etc. Caffeine is particularly risky for women on birth control pills because they already have a decreased ability to detoxify caffeine.
- Gastrointestinal Problems - caffeine stimulates contractions of stomach muscles that can cause abdominal pain, cramps, diarrhea, and increased bowel movements.
- Cardiovascular Problems - caffeine keeps blood pressure elevated for hours which can be associated with risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Mood Disturbances - increased blood pressure and breathing that comes with the stimulating effect of caffeine tend to cause irritability, restlessness, insomnia and agitation in many people.
- Blood Sugar Swings - caffeine can impair insulin's action which causes a rise in blood sugar levels, followed by a crash.
Having read through the above possible perks and potential disadvantages of your daily coffee (or 2...or 3..), it's up to you determine whether or not caffeine is something that works for you and your body. While it's fairly obvious I've given more reasons to the 'opposing' argument on whether or not coffee is a health food, I wholeheartedly believe in the principle of bio-individuality - one person's food is another person's poison. With that in mind, if you thrive on a cup of coffee a day and don't find that you're dragging yourself through the afternoon feeling irritable, jittery, clammy and/or reaching for the lolly jar, then by all means be my guest. The unfortunate truth, however, is that many people use coffee as a crutch to "power through" the day when their bodies are crying out for a rest. This makes us susceptible to adrenal fatigue which is anything but healthy. Be your own judge and do some experimenting without it. Once the withdrawal symptoms pass, (I can almost guarantee) you will be feeling fantastic! And, hey, you'll save [$3 x 7 days =] $21 in the process. Nice!
If you've decided to try kicking Joe to the curb, here are some tips and tricks to help you with the transition:
- Taper off gradually - if you are used to having 2+ coffees a day, start by having one a day and see how you go. Move on to having one a couple times a week, etc. until you don't even need one!
- Switch to Yerba mate, black tea, green tea or white tea - these all have much less caffeine than coffee and are good transition drinks.
- Take a spirulina shot - this will give you pure raw energy instead of stimulated energy from caffeine. To make, just mix a tsp of spirulina powder with a little water and toss it back! (it's not nice, but you're tough!)
- Drink lots of green juice and green smoothies, like this one - greens alkalize the blood and reduce cravings for caffeine.
- Eat high-energy foods - this means tons of veggies plus super seed-like grains (quinoa and millet), nuts, seeds and coconut oil.
- Nibble on hot peppers - these cause your brain to release endorphins which provide you with energy and fight caffeine withdrawal headaches.
- Drink or eat treats made with raw cacao (chocolate) powder - cacao has a small amount of caffeine which will give you that feel-good chocolate buzz that you might be missing.
- Try a herbal coffee substitutes, such as Teeccino and dandelion tea. These are delicious with some raw nut milk!
- Give rooibos tea a go if you love black tea - similar taste without the caffeine.
- Exercise - physical activity boosts energy levels so try doing a brisk walk or a little bit of yoga in the morning when you usually reach for the java.
- De-stress - stress is like an energy Dementor (Harry Potter anyone?). Take some time for yourself, whatever that means for you. This could be yoga, breathing exercises, meditation, listening to music, reading, visualization, etc.
- Get more sleep - you won't need that coffee if you're getting enough rest to maintain normal energy levels.
If you aren't ready, or simply don't want, to give up your daily cuppa, here are some suggestions to make it a little healthier:
- Always drink organic coffee (and tea for that matter!) - non-organic coffee has lots of mega-toxic pesticides which load the liver even more than just the caffeine.
- Drink it with unsweetened nut milk - coffee is already acidic to the body so it's best not to throw on more acidic dairy and sugar.
- Don't drink coffee straight after a meal - this acidifies the food you just ate and causes all sorts of digestive complications.
- Reeeally try to cut back to one a day!
Hope that gives you a (relatively) objective viewpoint on caffeine and how it effects the body. Me personally, I used to drink coffee but don't at all anymore. It makes me shaky, irritable, clammy and sweaty! Not a good look... I'll have the occasional green or black chai tea, but I much prefer herbal tea anyway. There are hundreds of deliciously amazing herbal teas on the market these days so you can make cutting coffee interesting by trying a new one every couple of weeks! Joy!
Have you tried cutting coffee before? What worked for you? What didn't?
Always keen to hear from you.