Healthier Options to Coffee for Energy?

Last week Nonie answered a reader question regarding the health impact of coffee. This week, in the second part of her answer, she offers alternatives for those who can’t have coffee (or caffeine), or those who may want a healthier choice.

Dear Shawn,

We left off last week with a summary of why coffee should be approached with caution by those with certain health conditions. If you missed it, you can read it here.

I didn’t go into the various health benefits of coffee because that really wasn’t your question. But I would be remiss if I didn’t link to some of that data for those reading who want to weigh in on the issue for themselves.

You wanted to know if there was anything else you could use as a substitute for coffee to help energize you in the morning. The answer is a resounding yes! There are quite a few things, actually.

But, as I mentioned last week, removal of coffee may cause some discomfort and various withdrawal symptoms. These can include brain fog, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, headaches or migraines, lack of energy, anxiety, depressed or low mood, irritability, and tremors. Your strength and stamina may also be impacted in the short term. Ergo, for those who don’t want to Thriller their family and colleagues in the morning, best to wean off this drug in increments!

However, most of the withdrawal symptoms fade rather quickly after a week or two, as your body adapts. And, very oddly, caffeine in coffee does not always have the same impact on people as the caffeine in other beverages. Tea leaves - green and black included - have four brain stimulants compared to coffee’s one. These help explain why coffee and tea have such a different impact on the body.

So let’s first look at tea as an alternative.

Green tea is a great option. It also has natural caffeine: 35 to 50 milligrams per eight ounces, compared to brewed coffee’s 100 to 200 mg per eight oz, and espresso’s 200 to 700 mg. So while it has caffeine, it has much less and it acts very differently on the brain and body. As well, green tea has numerous other health benefits. Among these, it’s a potent antioxidant, which inhibits aging on a cellular level, it can increase insulin sensitivity to offset and improve Type 2 diabetes, and it’s been shown to improve brain health and be protective against Alzheimer's and cardiovascular disease. However, it’s really important to ensure green tea is organic because the plant draws toxins from the soil that are harmful otherwise.

Powdered green tea, called matcha tea, has much higher caffeine content, but doesn’t always aggravate people the way coffee does. Think coffee without the wound up nervousness, jitteriness, and energy crashes - owing to the other compounds in matcha. It has an incredible health profile. It gives long-lasting energy that can be added to health food drinks of various kinds, but beware of sugar in commercial smoothies!

When matcha powder is added to a smoothie or mixed drink it seems to absorb more slowly than coffee, and does not produce such a spike in energy, anxiety, or heart rate. However, this buzz lasts a long time. You do not want to take it less than eight hours before you sleep! The first time I tried it was in an evening smoothie and I was up all night. My house has never been so clean! I recommend a smoothie with high fat coconut milk (not beverage), one teaspoon to tablespoon of matcha, erythritol/stevia sweetener (like Truvia), and some vanilla whey protein (I prefer fermented whey) whizzed up in a blender. Energy and healthy breakfast all in one! This will keep you energized and satiated for hours. A bonus is you will not be tempted by goodies colleagues bring to the work place!

Black tea’s caffeine content can range from 25 to 100 mg, and it has its own health benefits, so it can be an improvement for your condition. It does not hold a candle to the benefits of green tea, though, so if you’re going to make a change, it seems a no-brainer to me.

I am going to suggest another option herein that may surprise you. It has nothing at all to do with caffeine. Part of the reason I think so many of us rely on caffeine so heavily to get going in the mornings is because we are so full of inflammation, which is usually most noticeable on waking. Removing the primary inflammatory foods (sugars, wheat, dairy) from your diet for two weeks, then adding one back in at a time, will tell you if this is indeed a factor and which ones trigger you. I think you may be really impressed with this test. It makes an incredible difference to most of my clients! Waking up stiff and achey, with low energy and brain fag is NOT a normal part of aging!

Lastly, I want to recommend you add an adaptogenic tea to your mornings. This is a tea that helps the body cope with inflammation, fight aging, and become more resilient to stressors. I’m speaking of jiaogulan tea. It’s not well known yet, but it will be once it becomes better known in the West. It’s native to China and is used to enhance numerous health conditions and promote youthfulness. It contains many of the same compounds of ginseng and then some. The studies keep accumulating! It’s used to boost immunity, mood, longevity, heart health, digestion, sleep, energy, weight loss, skin, respiratory conditions, and as a protective against cancer. Adaptogenic herbs both promote energy and sleep, as odd as that sounds. But jiaogulan is bitter, so I recommend blending it with hibiscus tea, which is naturally sweet and packed with antioxidants and its own health benefits.

Other than that, I recommend some morning exercise to help get you going, but you already knew that! Taken together, these tools will help transform you from Shawn of the Yawn to Shawn of the Dawn!

Namaste! Nonie Nutritionista

Nonie De Long is a registered orthomolecular nutritionist with a clinic in Bradford West Gwillimbury, where she offers holistic, integrative care for physical and mental-health issues.

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The contents of this website are intended for educational purposes only and nothing herein should be misconstrued as medical advice, for which you should consult a licensed physician.

Copyright 2016 Nonie De Long.