I’ve mentioned recently here and on social media that I’m trying to scale back and change my coffee/caffeine consumption habits.
I’ve talked through this with clients and friends quite a bit (people get deliriously curious when you bring up dietary changes. Particularly when those dietary changes involve less coffee. Moms be like whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?!), so I thought I’d outline what was going on with me that forced my hand with this decision.
I’m also covering lots of information on coffee consumption (including pros and cons), some suggestions on how to do coffee “right”, PLUS a kick-ass copy cat coffee recipe at the end of the blog. So read on!
1. Reliance on coffee to get going…and keep going.
We all lead full, busy lives. We live in a culture in which we run around like chickens with our heads cut off…and we’re glorified for it. So this is not a poor me saga, this is simply one way I sometimes let my own life run me ragged (and ultimately, how I recognize this tendency in myself and pull myself back on track).
Running a business as a stay at home mom can be a lot. I feel like I could be working 24 hours a day if I let myself. My mind is always going-going-going, and I have to work really hard (and often fail) to keep myself from multi-tasking.
I found myself relying on coffee to keep this (menacing) pace. I’d wake up and drink coffee even before water in the morning, and it took about 3 cups to get my day started. Then I’d get another craving mid-morning, and then again mid-afternoon. When I acted upon it, I would get a surge of “energy” and be able to push myself through whatever task was at hand.
In a moment, I’m going to go over why this is a bad thing from a physiological standpoint. And then I’m gonna tell you ways to circumvent some of the negative effects of coffee with some nutritional tweaks. But before you say “HOORAY! I can make some of these changes and keep slogging through my day in a caffeinated craze!”, let me tell you I am not advocating for that. I think that coffee can be a fine addition to a nutritionally sound diet and robust lifestyle, which is why I’m serving up these ideas.
But if my above experience sounds familiar to you, what I suggest is that you take a look at your life and determine if the pace of it is working for you. Here’s a tip: if you NEED a stimulant to keep up, it’s not.
2. Low energy and weird sleep
Basically, the overstimulation of caffeine throughout the day was causing me to have really restless sleep at night. I’d have a tough time falling and staying asleep. I’d wake up throughout the night with racing thoughts. Seriously, I’d wake up with an email draft in my head at like 2am. This has everything to do with the stress response caffeine can have on the body, which I will talk about shortly. The lack of proper sleep plus chronically activated stress response led to sluggish energy during the day and then a “second wind” in the evening. This is how I knew my cortisol was out of whack.
3. GI stuff, specifically heartburn
Coffee and caffeine are gut irritants. Your gut health is arguably the most important thing you’ve got going on. Even Hippocrates, father of modern medicine, suggested that all disease originates in the gut. (I know this for a fact…we used to text about it all the time.)
When working on health, a very good place to start is with your digestion, the structural integrity of your small intestine, and proper diversity of your intestinal microbiome (that’s the good buggies and bad buggies).
Okay, I don’t want to lose you here. My point is this: if your digestion and gut health aren’t firing, then don’t add gut irritants to the mix. It will only serve to worsen the issue/s.
Heartburn is a notable symptom of the autoimmune disease that I have. Since chronic acid reflux can cause damage to the esophagus, I have to be hyper vigilant about keeping it from happening in the first place. I’ve had to do lots of gut healing over the past year or so, which has included taking breaks from coffee. Especially because coffee can sometimes trigger acid reflux for me. For awhile, almost every time I’d drink coffee, I’d get heartburn. I do NOT take antacids or any acid-stopping drugs. (This isn’t the place to get into it, but here’s the Cliffs Notes: THEY ARE BAD.)
Heartburn might be common, but it’s NOT normal. So if coffee is triggering heartburn, then it’s gotsta go. Sad face.
So why not just throw coffee the peace sign and be done with it once and for all?
I’ve done this with many foods over the years that didn’t work for me. But here’s the thing: I enjoy coffee. I really like the taste, as well as the ritual of making it. I have tried replacing this habit with other ones in the past, but they never stick; I always circle back around like the sly fox I am.
With health, it’s never about how many foods can we eliminate from our diet. Health does not necessitate restriction. Sometimes we do have to remove foods from our diet because they cause ill effects (me with gluten, for example). But ultimately it’s about figuring out what we can get away with and still feel good. We want to be able to enjoy our life, and enjoy our food. Coffee brings me enjoyment, so my goal is to be able to drink it.
And it’s not all bad.
Coffee actually contributes some nutrition, including antioxidants, some B vitamins, magnesium and potassium. Always be sure you’re drinking organic (fair trade preferably), as coffee is a heavily sprayed crop, and it’s far better for your liver and the rest of your body to steer clear of pesticides.
Let’s talk about how caffeine works inside your body for a moment.
(If you don’t care about this stuff, I’d argue that you should. If your body is a boat, you are the captain, my friend. You should probably know how to steer the ship. But if you really, really don’t care, then skip the next few paragraphs. If you wanna geek out for a sec, read and then re-read the next bit.)
This is all pretty simplified, but it helps to explain why we get some of the side effects of caffeine.
Coffee stimulates metabolism, so metabolic support must be present. One such support is adequate blood glucose. If you feel anxious or shaky after drinking coffee, it is most likely due to low blood sugar (inadequate support). This is why it’s not good to get up and drink coffee first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. You simply don’t have the resources ready for metabolism.
The stress response raises blood sugar (stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol mobilize glucose from the liver and the body’s proteins) in order to provide the cells the fuel they need. This is a problem. We don’t want our stress response to be activated when we’re drinking coffee.
When cortisol and adrenaline are triggered by your stress response, this can feel great in the short term (energy! stamina! motivation!), but if you’re constantly relying on this surge to get you through your day, it can put stress on your HPA Axis (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis: a complex signaling system between three endocrine glands). Eventually this can lead to dysregulation of this system, which can lead to a number of different issues, including fatigue, inability to handle stress, weight gain, blood sugar issues, low mood, joint pain and inflammation…it’s not great, but it’s VERY common. Because we live such “full” lives, oftentimes our bodies can’t keep up with our schedules or our stress loads, so we end up relying on exogenous forms of “energy” to keep on keepin’ on.
Eventually, overtime, if your stress response is chronically over activated, your body may stop responding to stress hormones (like cortisol). In the same way that you can become insulin resistant, the chronic release of cortisol becomes like white noise to the cells, and it loses its effect on the body. OR your body may just stop producing cortisol all together. We NEED cortisol, so both of these outcomes are problematic.
Some indications that caffeine consumption is acting on your stress response: anxiety, shakiness, sweating, inability to focus, racing heart, sleep trouble, and/or cold extremities. If you experience any of these symptoms, then it’s a good indication that you don’t tolerate coffee well.
HERE’S THE THING:
People metabolize coffee differently. Some are considered “fast” metabolizers, some “slow”. Fast metabolizers don’t seem to have as much of that cortisol bump, and seem to tolerate caffeine much better. My husband, for example, can drink a quad Americano (that’s four shots of espresso) and be cool as a cucumber. Slow metabolizers are more apt to have all the negative side effects associated with caffeine, and these can last for up to nine hours. If this is you, and/or if you experience the negative effects of caffeine, then you really should think about taking it out all together, at least for a period of time. It’s also best to avoid coffee if you are in healing mode, working to build up your nutrition and/or reducing your stress levels.
You might want to avoid coffee if you have:
slow coffee metabolism (if you feel wired by it for a long time)
hormonal issues, including HPA Axis Dysregulation (often colloquially called Adrenal Fatigue)
lowered sensitivity to caffeine and the need for MORE MORE MORE throughout the day[separator]
Caffeine withdrawal can be brutal (headaches, irritability, fogginess, fatigue), so I do recommend scaling back rather than going cold turkey.
Ways to scale back caffeine intake:
Switch over to lesser-caffeine containing green tea or yerba mate. This may fill your desire for a morning ritual. I also know people who LOVE to start their day with a mug of warm water and fresh lemon juice and/or apple cider vinegar.
Replace some of your regular coffee with decaf. This way you get the same taste without the push of caffeine. Start with a higher ratio of regular:decaf, then gradually scale back until you no longer feel the effects. This might mean you’re drinking all decaf. Chemical solvents are used to extract caffeine from beans in order to make many decaf coffees (and tea, too). There is another way, referred to as “water process” or “Swiss water process”, which only uses water and osmosis to decaffeinate the beans. This is preferable, so when purchasing decaf, look for the organic and water process labels.
HOWEVER, if you’re like me and you REALLY like coffee, but experience symptoms of coffee intolerance, before you go the route of complete removal, there are a few things you can try:
1.First and foremost, eat well. As the metabolic rate rises from consistent coffee consumption, the need for nutrients increases, so be sure you eat a conscious, well rounded diet with lots of variety. If you are a chronic dieter or under eater, your body is in a chronic stress response (whether you know it or not), so adding caffeine to the mix is probably not a good idea.
2. Drink coffee with a meal, or directly after a meal. NOT on an empty stomach. This can delay entry of the caffeine into the bloodstream, so you don’t get that sudden rush.
3. If you’re NOT having coffee with a meal, then drink it with some added fat and some sugar. Yep, straight up table sugar, a pure and simple form of glucose. Your health gurus tell you that sugar is the devil and to avoid it like the plague. But hear me out: a little bit won’t kill you. To be clear, I’m not advocating for snacking on gummy worms or pounding Big Gulps here, but there’s some research that suggests sugar *may* help to mitigate the unfavorable effects of coffee/caffeine is sugar. It’s back to adequate resources: adding sugar to your coffee puts readily available glucose into your bloodstream.
This is a theory with *some* preliminary research to back it up. But your best research is always going to be an n=1 experiment. Meaning, TEST ON YOURSELF. Go for organic sugar…honey or maple syrup may work here, as well. Fat (coconut oil, grass fed cream, coconut cream, grass fed whole milk) can also help to curb the negative effects.
Lately, food manufacturers have caught up to the Put-Everything-In-Your-Coffee trend. The other afternoon I was out and about and trying to fight the urge to get a coffee. I slipped into the health food store to grab a kombucha, and THEN got slapped across the face with the siren’s call of this temptress:
Super Rebel Herbs Maca Cold-Brew
I had to give it a go. It was SO tasty. I only drank half, since I am actively trying to keep my caffeine intake low…then next day I drank the other half. The day after that, I wanted more. I decided to recreate the recipe at home. Here’s what I came up with based on the following ingredients:
COLD BREW COFFEE
Cold brew is a method of brewing coffee without heat. Coffee grounds are steeped in water overnight (or up to 24 hours) and the result is a smoother, sweeter and less bitter coffee than the traditional hot-brewed method produces. See my simple tutorial for DIY cold brew - you can also make this with decaf coffee! If you’d rather buy it, Chameleon Cold Brew is awesome. It’s fair trade and organic and you can find it at Target. As if you needed needed another excuse to go there.
Maca root is a tuber which contains adaptogenic properties. Adaptogens help the body deal with stress. Maca is usually ground down into a powder and sold as a supplement. Supplementing with maca *may* help balance hormones and energy in *some* people.
I’ve supplemented with it off and on for close to a decade, but mostly because I just really like the taste.
You’ll definitely hear people refer to this as a “superfood”. Superfood is pretty much a buzz word at this point. Like the term all natural - it really doesn’t mean much. And it’s often just used to sell stuff.
The bottle claims that this coffee beverage is “…perfectly balanced with organic maca root to help nourish and rebalance that which coffee can overwork.” We’ve already discussed what coffee can overwork. But consuming maca with coffee does not negate the negative effects of the coffee. That’s like washing down french fries and ring dings with a fifth of tequila, then popping a milk thistle pill and being like “everything is fine! my liver is fine!” That’s not really how the body works.
I’ve added maca to my recipe to emulate the taste of the original. I do really like the taste of maca.
COCONUT MILK AND CREAM
This provides the fat. I used a combination of coconut milk (you can make your own or use store bought - Califia Farms makes a coconut/almond milk blend that is carrageenan free and that works well here) + coconut cream (use the thick cream from the top of a can of full-fat coconut milk OR you can buy canned coconut cream. Native Forest is a BPA-free brand).
See above to read why straight sugar is not such a bad thing. Use organic sugar or coconut sugar (the original recipe uses coconut sugar). If you need to avoid sugar for whatever reason, I’ve also included an option for stevia extract.
Does it seem weird? Don’t skip this. True sea salt contains minerals THAT WE NEED, and it’s nourishing for the adrenal glands (the glands that produce cortisol!). I am extremely heavy-handed with the salt at my house. Since we don’t eat much (any) processed food, we’re not getting a ton of sodium through our diet. So I’m all about the pink Himalayan or grey Celtic sea salt. Plus, it tastes amazing. The salt will accentuate the other yummy flavors of this beverage. It’s a game changer.
Maca Coconut Cold-Brew Copy Cat Recipe
6 ounces cold brew coffee - decaf or regular (find a DIY tutorial here)
4 ounces store bought or homemade coconut milk
1 Tablespoon coconut cream
1 teaspoon maca root powder (optional)
1 teaspoon organic sugar or 5 drops stevia extract
Pinch Himalayan pink sea salt (I used just under 1/8 tsp)
Place all ingredients in a blender. Serve over ice!