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14 Caffeine and Coffee Alternatives: Healthy Substitutes for Your Morning Java

Coffee is the most widely-used natural stimulant in the world. We all know how grumpy and bleary eyed people can be without their daily fix of Starbucks! Unfortunately, some folks are over-caffeinated and undernourished after too many visits to the coffee shop. Those delicious coffee drinks from java chains may wake you up, but they also increase your daily intake of sugar and calories to an unhealthy level.  Coffee drinks “with the  works” can add up to 670 calories to your daily total. Not all coffee drinks are bad for you – just order wisely.

If too much coffee gives you the jitters, or if you’re looking for a healthier way to perk up, try these caffeine and coffee alternatives.  Some have a kinder, gentler version of caffeine, while others are caffeine-free.

 

Gingko Biloba

Several studies indicate ginkgo biloba improves memory, thinking and even social behavior in dementia patients.  It protects against damage to the cell’s energy centers (mitochondria) and helps alleviate oxidative stress.

Made from the dried green leaves of the ginkgo biloba tree, this herbal extract contains  flavonoids, plant-based antioxidants that keep the heart, nerves and eyes healthy, and terpenoids, which help dilate blood vessels to improve blood flow. Ginkgo biloba aids the circulatory system and can improve cognitive function and memory in healthy people

Boost a foggy memory or get your brain in gear in the morning with gingko biloba tea ,or take it in supplement form.  

 

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is usually front and center on the list of energy drink ingredients, but energy drinks are full of sugar (or chemical-laden sugar substitutes), which undoes some of the positive effects of B12 and other B vitamins.  You can get Vitamin B12 from food, supplements or B12 injections. Liver, sardines, salmon, red meat, milk, yogurt and beans are high in Vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 shots are normally given to people with pernicious anemia, but anyone who wants more energy can get a B12 shot from a medical provider.  If you want the convenience of a B12 vitamin with quicker results, buy sublingual tablets. You place a sublingual vitamin under your tongue and let it melt. This makes it enter your bloodstream faster than a vitamin you take by mouth. Cyanocobalamin, (another name for Vitamin B12), enables the body to make more red blood cells and helps iron to work efficiently. B complex injections containing Vitamins B12, B6, B9 and other vitamins are also available to boost energy.

Cyanocobalamin gets the most publicity, but the other B vitamins are important for energy, too.  Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) helps break down proteins to give you more energy and improves brain function. You can get Vitamin B6 from nuts, pork, poultry and whole grains. Vitamin B9 (folic acid) helps form red blood cells and improves the amount of hemoglobin the body to increase energy. Beans, spinach, lentils and avocados are a few foods rich in Vitamin B9.

 

Exercise

When you’re dragging and dead tired, moving around, much less exercising seems impossible, but doctors say exercise is one of the best antidotes for fatigue. Participating in any sort of physical activity, whether it's taking the stairs instead of the elevator or doing aerobics, will stimulate your endorphins. Even the lightest, briefest activity will make you feel good and want to move more to feel even better!

Mitochondria, small organs inside cells, create energy in your body, and they flourish when you exercise. You don’t need to hit the gym for an extended workout to reap these benefits. A 15 or 20 minute walk will give you energy, and make you more focused and alert for the rest of the day’s activities.

 

Green Tea

Green tea gives you a gentle buzz throughout the day, keeping your energy level moderately high, but not frantic (like one too many coffees). An 8 ounce cup of coffee has between 95-200 mgs of caffeine, and a cup of green tea has between 24-45 mgs. That’s quite a difference, and it may leave some coffee fans suspicious of green tea’s ability to give you comparable energy. What green tea lacks in caffeine content, it makes up for with other components.

Theanine, an amino acid found in green tea, improves cognitive function and helps you focus. Theanine balances the negative effects of caffeine, and boasts theromogenic and fat burning qualities. According to a Swiss study, men who took green tea extract increased their energy level by 4% over participants who took a placebo.

Theanine relaxes you as it rekindles your energy, and there’s proof it may even help you sleep better. This study shows L-theanine helped boys with ADHD improve sleep quality, so it can certainly help the average adult sleep better.

Green tea offers many other health benefits. It has catechins and flavonoids, polyphenol antioxidants which have anti-inflammatory and anti-aging power.  Buy green tea from your favorite supermarket or order powdered matcha green tea online. High-quality matcha green tea offers even more energy and health benefits than regular green tea.

 

Black Tea

Black tea offers many of the same benefits of coffee without as much caffeine. A cup of English breakfast tea has 40 to 70 mgs per 8-ounce cup, half the caffeine in a cup of coffee.  Enjoy a cup of hot or iced tea with lemon, and avoid adding sugar and milk to keep the experience (mostly) calorie-free.

Like green tea, black tea contains free-radical fighting polyphenol antioxidants. Black tea is the “middle” choice for boosting energy, smack dab between rocket-fuel coffee and the mellow buzz of green tea. If you like to experiment with different flavor teas, oolong tea can boost your metabolism by as much as 10%, according to this study published in the Journal of Nutrition.

 

Cocoa

Contrary to what you might believe, eating and drinking chocolate is healthy, as long as you indulge in the right kind of chocolate.

You’ll need to drink a brand that’s at least 50% “real cocoa” to get the benefits of the appetite-suppressing stimulant theobromine. Hershey’s unsweetened dark cocoa is 100% cacao, or pure, unprocessed chocolate. It contains no sugar or additives, unlike milk chocolate, and has some of the highest levels of magnesium and antioxidants found in any food.

Cacao is available as “energy bites” from health food stores if hot cocoa’s not your thing. Learn more about cacao from this TED talk.

That’s not the only good news. Eating an unsweetened dark chocolate bar will give you the same benefits – just make sure the wrapper says it's at least 50% pure cocoa.

 

Ginseng

Used for centuries as an aphrodisiac, ginseng can do a lot more than spice up your sex life.  There are three types of ginseng – American, Korean and Siberian. Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) contain similar chemicals, while Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) has different components. All three types of ginseng share the same caffeine-free, energy-boosting qualities. Ginseng is a stimulant, like coffee. A study by the Mayo Clinic shows ginseng  increases energy in cancer patients.

Drink ginseng tea or add some ginseng root to your Smoothie. Make chicken-ginseng soup or sprinkle some chopped up ginseng root on your salad.

Too much ginseng may cause insomnia, high blood pressure or headaches. Health practitioners recommend consuming one or two cups of ginseng tea a day (or one Smoothie or ginseng dish) to avoid side effects.

Protein

Coffee and other stimulants are great for a temporary shot of energy, but protein provides long-term potency.  If you depend on fats and carbohydrates to sustain you, you'll always feel lethargic. Protein helps balance your blood sugar levels to get you through the most hectic days. Replace the refined flour and fast food in you diet with beans, red meat, eggs, tofu, yogurt and nuts, and you'll feel renewed energy.

Start your day with an egg-white frittata or another high-protein breakfast to help retain energy all day long.  For dinner, try Almond and Lemon-Crusted Fish with Spinach.

 

Wheatgrass

Young grass from the wheat plant (Triticum aestivum) is used to make wheatgrass supplements. While your cat can eat raw wheatgrass, you can't , so you have to take it in pill form, or in a Smoothie.

Wheatgrass is powered by chlorophyll, the green pigment that gives plants their color. Chlorophyll contains hundreds of essential nutrients, including Vitamin B12 and other B-complex vitamins. It also contains Vitamin E, magnesium, amino acids (aka protein) and iron to increase your energy and endurance.

Some wheatgrass supplements contain extra ingredients, which may include periwinkle herb, L-taurine (also found in energy drinks), cocoa and a healthy amount of caffeine. Revv Natural Energy Supplement  is one of the most popular wheatgrass products for energy.    

 

Lemon Water

Drinking lemon water is a good way to wean yourself off coffee if you're prone to caffeine jitters. Drink a glass of cool water with lemon slices or a few drops of lemon juice, and you'll feel refreshed and energized, without the inevitable early afternoon crash.

Water hydrates you to give you an energy boost, and the Vitamin C in lemons fights stress and keeps your immune system strong. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2012 showed mildly dehydrated women felt tired and suffered a decline in cognitive function. When you drink lemon water, the lemon juice will make you more alert once it hits your digestive system, and will help you remain calmer throughout stressful days.

 

Veggie Smoothies

There’s a good reason Mom always admonished you to eat your vegetables. All veggies fight inflammation and give you a natural energy boost. They're bursting with B vitamins, Vitamin C and other nutrients, and you don't have to eat them as a side dish with dinner. Make a green smoothie in the morning - or anytime of day - using broccoli, kale, spinach, or other veggies. Most veggie smoothies are made with additional ingredients to increase nutritional value and improve taste. Fruits, yogurt, vegan milk, flaxseeds and nuts are just a few of the healthy foods you can add to your smoothie. 

 

Licorice Tea

Licorice tea gives you the pleasant taste of Twizzlers without the tooth decay. This herbal tea boosts energy by regulating hormone production in the adrenal glands. Too much stress causes hormones to build up in the adrenal glands, causing fatigue, high blood pressure and other problems. Licorice acts like natural cortisone to calm you down and give you a steady supply of energy. Add honey or cinnamon to licorice tea to dilute its strong natural taste.

If you have high blood pressure, drinking licorice tea may cause it to spike, so use metabolism boosting oolong, black or green tea instead.

 

Periwinkle Herb

The herb periwinkle is made from evergreen shrubs, and its active ingredient, vincamine, increases blood flow to the brain, making you more alert. It’s been shown to help people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia  by improving memory and brain function. Ex -pro football players with head injuries have also benefited from taking periwinkle herb, fish oil and other nutrients.

You can drink periwinkle tea, take it as a tincture, or as a supplement pill.

 

Cayenne Pepper

High in B vitamins, calcium and Vitamin C, cayenne pepper improves your metabolism like other spicy foods. The capsaicin in cayenne pepper increases your body temperature, to burn fat and rev up your metabolism. (If capsaicin sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the natural painkiller used in Ben Gay and many over-the-counter topical creams.)

Add fresh cayenne peppers to soups, stir-fries or sauces. Sprinkled powder cayenne pepper on popcorn or add to smoothies. You can also buy cayenne in supplement form, but fresh peppers or spices are better. Remember to wash your hands after cutting or handling fresh cayenne peppers, as the capsaicin can burn our eyes.

 

Drinking a cup or two of coffee per day shouldn't harm most people, but there are other ways to get your buzz on. Vary your daily pick-me-up routine with one or more of these coffee alternatives!

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