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A range of foods and drinks can make good alternatives to caffeinated products for those looking to reduce their intake of this stimulant.
Caffeine occurs naturally in many plants, including coffee beans, tea leaves, and cocoa beans. It is also an additive in certain foods and medications because it both enhances flavor and has a stimulating effect on the brain.
With a growing trend toward healthful eating and an increasing awareness of how foods affect overall health, many people are looking to switch from foods that contain caffeine to those that are free of it.
Studies have found that moderate doses of caffeine — about 300–400 milligrams (mg) per day — do not have any negative effects on health. However, how caffeine affects the body varies depending on a person’s weight, age, and overall health.
Many people report craving the “pick-me-up” effect of a coffee, chocolate bar, or soda when they feel tired or sluggish and come to rely on these quick energy fixes to get them through the day. The sugar content in some of these products also contributes to their stimulating effect.
Research has shown that the overconsumption of caffeine can have numerous side effects, including:
- increased blood pressure
- a racing heartbeat, known as tachycardia
People who regularly consume caffeine should be aware that they may suddenly experience withdrawal symptoms, similar to those in the list above, if they suddenly stop or reduce their caffeine intake.
A cup of coffee contains 30–350 mg of caffeine, depending on the particular blend, type, and size. The alternatives below contain no caffeine at all.
Chicory root coffee
As with coffee beans, people can roast, grind, and brew chicory root. By adding 2 tablespoons of roasted chicory grounds for every 6 ounces of hot water, they can make a hot drink that smells and tastes similar to coffee.
Chicory is a rich source of inulin — a soluble fiber that aids digestion and promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. One study found that it can improve bowel movement and hyperglycemia, which is an excess of glucose in the bloodstream.
Rooibos, or “red bush,” tea is an increasingly popular hot beverage that originated in South Africa. With a slightly sweet, fruity flavor, it is available in tea bags or as loose-leaf tea.
Coffee and tea both contain tannins. Despite having some antioxidant properties, tannins also inhibit the amount of iron that a person can absorb, potentially contributing to low iron levels. Rooibos tea does not have this effect because it has a low tannin content.
People can make this tea by steeping a rooibos tea bag or loose leaves in hot water for up to 10 minutes, according to their taste preference.
Fruit and vegetable smoothie
People can make a smoothie at home by using a blender to combine whole pieces of fruit or vegetables with water or juice.
They can try experimenting with different fruits and vegetables to find combinations that suit their palate. Using frozen fruit gives a smoothie the same refreshing chill that soda provides. A squeeze of lemon juice can give it added “zing.”
Soda water with fruit juice
Some people find the pleasing fizz of sodas difficult to give up. Mixing plain soda water with a little fruit juice and a squeeze of lemon or lime provides a refreshing alternative.
Some juices that work well are cranberry, raspberry and apple, and grape. However, as many juice products are high in added sugars, it is best to use fresh fruits or opt for 100% fruit juices, where possible.
Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, which naturally contain caffeine. Due to this caffeine, as well as the stimulating effect of sugar, snacking on chocolate can affect blood sugar levels.
For a more nutritious but equally convenient snack, people can try the following:
Carob comes from the fruit pods of the carob tree. It is naturally sweet and similar in taste and texture to chocolate.
Carob is incredibly nutritious and may aid digestion. It also has antioxidant, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties. The pinitol and minerals in carob provide an energizing feeling, similar to the feeling that many people associate with chocolate.
Store-bought, shelled nuts are a healthful and convenient snack.
Nuts are naturally caffeine-free, and they also provide essential healthful fats, minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins.
They are high in protein, which gives a feeling of fullness, and a small handful can provide a similar amount of energy to a small chocolate bar.
For people concerned about levels of alertness when avoiding caffeine, the following may help:
People commonly use ginseng root and ginseng extract to boost energy, improve memory and concentration, relieve stress and fatigue, and slow the effects of aging.
Anyone wishing to try ginseng as a tea or a supplement should read the product instructions carefully to ensure the correct dosage.
Maca is a cruciferous vegetable (broccoli, cabbage, and kale also belong to this group) that grows mainly in the Andes in Central Peru. It is usually available to buy in powder form, so people can easily add it to soups, smoothies, cereals, or baked goods.
People can try mixing it with hot milk for an energy-boosting beverage or adding a sprinkle to ice cream.
For most people, consuming moderate amounts of coffee is fine as part of a healthful, balanced diet.
However, experts advise certain groups of people to avoid caffeine where possible to avoid aggravating existing health conditions or reduce the risk of health complications.
For instance, a person should monitor their caffeine intake if they:
- are pregnant, trying to conceive, or breastfeeding
- have glaucoma or a family history of glaucoma
- have epilepsy
- have difficulty sleeping
- have a caffeine sensitivity or a caffeine allergy
Many alternatives are available for those looking to replace the caffeine in their diet with something more nourishing.
Some of these alternatives may not be as readily available as caffeine-laden products, but they can be just as delicious and satisfying.
It is important to be patient when phasing out caffeine, as the body may take time to adjust, and there may be withdrawal symptoms.