Are There Healthy Alternatives to Coffee and Energy Drinks?

If you’re a regular coffee drinker, you probably think of your first morning cup as the official start to your day. Or maybe you rely on an energy drink to push you through the afternoon slump.

If you’ve tried giving up cold turkey on these caffeinated and often sugary drinks, your goal to establish a healthier habit probably didn’t stick. But there are tasty alternatives to help you stay hydrated and refreshed without the jitters and energy crashes associated with favorites like Starbucks and Red Bull.

Caffeine is the most consumed addictive drug in the world. So, why give it up?
High levels of caffeine can lead to heart palpitations, shakiness, anxiety, insomnia, acid indigestion, stomach irritation and high blood pressure.

“While there isn’t an established guideline, I recommend that patients without cardiovascular or nervous system issues limit their daily caffeine intake to 200 mg or less, depending on their individual tolerance and medical history,” said Jason Stevenson, a registered dietitian/nutritionist and board-certified sports dietitian with the University of Miami Health System.

If you’re wondering, one – yes, just one – large cup of coffee can provide 200 to 300 mg of caffeine.

The other culprit in many coffee and energy drinks: sugar. Yep, also addictive.

“Limiting added sugars should be a focus in anyone’s nutrition plan,” says Stevenson. Consuming lots of sugar can contribute to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and energy crashes. “It’s recommended that your daily intake account for no more than 10 percent of your total calories. Diabetics and hypoglycemics need to be especially careful with their sugar consumption, as too much can cause erratic blood sugar levels and irregular energy levels.

“It’s best to limit both caffeine and sugar in your diet so your body can naturally maintain its energy levels without the need for stimulants.”

If your coffee or energy drink consumption regularly pushes beyond the suggested daily limits for caffeine and added sugars, give the following alternatives a try.

Tea

With flavors ranging from herbal, citrus and mint to floral and spiced, teas are available in naturally decaffeinated and caffeinated varieties. But even black tea doesn’t provide as much caffeine as an average cup of coffee. Ginger tea can help ease an upset stomach. Peppermint tea is known to help calm acid reflux. And green tea’s antioxidants promote brain health, may lower cancer risk, and help support efforts to lose weight.

“Try to enjoy tea without added sugar,” says Stevenson. “If you need a touch of sweetness, find a blend of sugar-free tea leaves that contain natural flavors and aromas (like passion fruit or chai) to help eliminate the desire for added sugars.”

Matcha Green Tea

Matcha is a bright green powder that, after being steeped in water, delivers approximately one-third the caffeine of coffee. Its naturally occurring L-theanine amino acid works synergistically, or together, with caffeine, allowing for a slower release of the stimulant, so you don’t get energy spikes and crashes.

“Theanine may help regulate the increases in blood pressure and anxiety associated with caffeine’s psychoactive stimulation,” Stevenson explained. “By steadying the body’s metabolism of caffeine, theanine may promote calmness, help reduce mental and physical stress and improve cognitive performance.”

Yerba Mate

Yerba mate is prepared like tea and offers the same caffeine buzz as coffee, but is said to allow you to avoid the heavy crash while providing anti-inflammatory nutrients and vitamins.

Teeccino

Teeccino is a popular brand of roasted herbs made from chicory root, barley, carob, and other naturally decaffeinated ingredients. You can brew it like coffee or steep it like tea, and the result is reminiscent of coffee, but without any acidity or caffeine. Teeccino is available in flavors that remind you of coffee, too, like hazelnut and chai.

Kombucha

Kombucha is a type of yeast that’s fermented with tea, a bit of sugar and other ingredients to make a fizzy and often tangy beverage. “While the benefits of Kombucha are debated,” Stevenson says, “some research claims it’s good for the gut and regulating bowel movements.” You might find this to be a refreshing, low sugar alternative to carbonated energy drinks.

“Whatever alternative you find to replace your coffee or energy drinks, ensure that it delivers less sugar and caffeine than your usual pick-me-up, without added sodium or potassium,” Stevenson advises,

 


Dana Kantrowitz is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.