Coffee is an essential part of the morning for many. Whether you didn’t get enough sleep the night before or need that extra dose of motivation, coffee is a fixture in most people’s regimen for boosting productivity. It can even have a number of health benefits—some studies have shown that regular coffee drinkers are at less risk for diseases like diabetes and dementia, and that it can help with weight loss. However, depending on how you prepare it, coffee can be loaded with unwanted sugar, calories, and fat that may keep you from achieving your health goals. If you want to make healthier choices but don’t want to lose out on your daily caffeine dose, what is the best plan of action?
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According to Carrie Bonfitto, NC, BCHN, a Los Angeles-based wellness expert and the author of What to Cook, Why to Eat It, the energy boost you get from caffeine may have unwanted aftereffects. “While coffee does have benefits because of the antioxidants in it, it also contains caffeine which is a stimulant that impacts the nervous system by causing a “fight or flight” response,” she says, “Chronic consumption can increase production of stress hormones. The “up” feeling we get from caffeine can last in the body for as long as 10 hours, impacting sleep and causing a roller coaster of mood swings and sugar cravings as the high wears off.” Beyond that, caffeine can deplete your body of essential nutrients like zinc and Vitamin C, which are both vital players in your immune system’s functioning.
So what can you drink instead to get that same energy boost, without the unwanted health effects. Bonfitto’s morning go-to is roasted herbal tea, specifically those made from carob, chicory, and barley. “They look the same as coffee, have a similar flavor, and contain natural antioxidants that increase energy without the caffeine,” she says, “If I need an extra boost, I’ll double bag with a jasmine green tea bag and a roasted herbal tea bag. Green tea has about 75% less caffeine than coffee plus it contains L-theanine, an amino acid that has a calming effect on the nervous system to ward off the “fight or flight” response.” Green tea also has its own unique health benefits, including being high in antioxidants and EGCG, which promote weight loss.
Even still, sometimes nothing hits the spot like a good cup of coffee, especially during the dreaded midday slump. If you don’t want to part with coffee altogether, is there at least a healthier way to prepare it? First of all, Bonfitto recommends making sure the coffee you buy is organic. Coffee is one of the crops sprayed most heavily with pesticides, and being exposed to these pesticides could force your liver to work in overdrive. Purchasing organic coffee will ensure you’re getting it in its simplest, most natural form. “You should also avoid adding sugar, artificial sweeteners, and fake creamers. Sticking to one cup of black coffee (with a splash of milk of choice, if needed) will be your best bet.” If you can’t live without your daily ritual of morning coffee, cutting it out entirely isn’t necessary. Focus instead on the quality you’re buying, what you’re adding, and how much of it you’re drinking.