Enjoy the health benefits without the caffeine crashes
By Jenny Cook
As a nation that drinks approximately 55 million cups a day, it’s pretty safe to say that the UK loves coffee. And it’s not without its benefits. Aside from keeping us awake and functioning at ungodly hours of the morning and night, new research shows that regular cups of Joe can actually increase life expectancy – while the popular mochaccino has been shown to boost attention span and decrease anxiety.
However, the fact remains that many of us rely too heavily on coffee – a habit that can become addictive and have negative consequences. Here, Frida Harju, in-house nutritionist at Swedish health and wellbeing app Lifesum, gives her tips on how to have a healthy relationship with one of the world’s most popular drinks.
- Count your cups
It can be tempting to reach for the kettle when we feel our energy dipping, but it’s important that we moderate the amount of coffee we drink, Frida says, or we risk making the situation worse.
“What constitutes a ‘moderate’ amount of coffee will differ from one person to the next – although guidelines suggest that 3-5 cups of coffee a day is an acceptable amount. However, while your intake within the guideline should be based on personal preference and tolerance for caffeine, it’s important to ensure that you do not have too much coffee.”
“This can lead to trembles, sleeping problems, or feelings of stress and anxiety. Coffee is highly addictive – while it makes you feel more alert, once the adrenaline rush from the coffee has worn off you will feel twice as tired as before, which in known as adrenaline exhaustion and which in turn makes you reach for another cup.”
- Avoid drinking coffee first thing
Yes, we know it’s nigh-on impossible to function in the early morning without a caffeine hit but the truth is your body will thank you for waiting a few hours.
“Contrary to popular belief, the best time to drink coffee isn’t as soon as you get out of bed, but a few hours after you start your day. This is connected to the levels of cortisol in your body – a chemical that signals to your body that it is time to wake up and start moving. When the first thing you do is drink coffee, it prevents the body from producing as much cortisol as it should, instead making you rely on the energy boost from the caffeine, which in turn has a negative effect on your circadian rhythm.”
- Don’t drink on an empty stomach
We all know that drinking alcohol on an empty stomach can lead to trouble (hello, floor), and it seems the same can be said for coffee.
“Drinking coffee on an empty stomach can increase the production of hydrochloric acid, which our body uses to digest food. When produced in excess, it can lower the natural levels of the acid, which can lead to undigested protein, which has been linked to IBS and bloating, so it’s important to ensure that you have eaten something before you have a coffee in order to prevent this.”
Similarly, if you suffer from stomach ulcers, gastritis or Crohn’s disease, it is advised you avoid coffee, as it can irritate your stomach, causing unnecessary discomfort.
- Swap in some green tea
If you’re trying to cut back on coffee but still crave a hot drink, give green tea a go. It contains less caffeine than coffee, but it still acts as a mild stimulant for low-energy moments. Frida says:
“Green tea also has the added benefit of containing a high number of antioxidants and flavonoids, making it great for your health. Not only can it hinder the development of tumour-spreading blood vessels but it also helps offset the effects of alcohol by repairing liver damage, making it a great hangover remedy.”
While the water in your coffee can help to hydrate you, the caffeine in the drink does the reverse, meaning too much Joe can leave you feeling dehydrated.
“In order to prevent dehydration, it’s a good idea to ensure that whilst drinking coffee you are still remembering to drink water. There are several apps that can help you track your water intake, for example Lifesum’s water feature. This will offset any negative effects of the caffeine upon your hydration levels, while also helping your body to function at its optimum level.”
It is recommended that you drink two litres of water a day, which equates to roughly eight glasses.
- Avoid drinking coffee in the evening
Although some people find caffeine to have little to no effect on their sleeping habits, it can wreak havoc on the body clocks of others.
“Some research has suggested that having caffeine before you go to sleep can result in a 40-minute delay in our circadian rhythms, the 24-hour cycle of biological processes that regulate our body clock. While this may not seem like a significant amount of time, over a prolonged period this can have a negative effect on both the body and mind.”
- Use a natural sweetener
To further boost the benefits of coffee, it’s best to keep it as natural as possible. That means cutting back on all the sugar, syrups and creams that are often added by baristas.
“People who take sugar in their coffee need to be aware of counteracting these benefits by overloading on sugar. Having too much sugar can have several negative effects upon your health. If you like your coffee to be sweeter, then try using a natural sweetener like a honey, or if you just want an extra pinch of flavour, cinnamon is a great and healthy addition to your daily cup.”