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My love affair with coffee began at the tender age of 13. I started making myself a small mug after my Dad had his cup first thing in the morning. Soon I graduated to Iced Frappuccinos and Tim Horton's English Toffee coffees with my high school friends (I know the Americans out there don't know what Tim Horton's is- this donut/coffee shop is as quintessentially Canadian as maple syrup, hockey, Loonies and bacon).
By university age, I had moved to the big city and had now become a Starbucks snob, revelling in my Grande Caramel Macchiatos. Even once I got married and had to adapt to having a real budget, I still couldn't bring myself to go completely cheap and instead went for the fancier Americano instead of a plain drip coffee.
Suffice it to say that out of all of the really bad, unhealthy habits that I have had to let go of (bad oils, sugar, processed foods, etc.), coffee has been one of the hardest. I was able to break the actual addiction, but still struggle with it as a comfort drink. It's my go-to when I'm stressed or tired. I have the hardest time turning it down when it's offered to me. I still thoroughly enjoy each and every sip.
Yet my years of studying health and nutrition have taught me that although I may love my cuppa cuppa, it does not necessarily love me or my body. Here are a few reasons why you may want to reconsider your daily cup of joe:
- Coffee is a diuretic beverage, which means that it pulls the water out of your body, causing dehydration.
- Since it is very acidic, it can irritate the stomach and digestive tract and can cause symptoms such as acid reflux and heartburn.
- Though many of us use coffee as a stress-release, there have actually been studies done showing that it increases stress! (source)
- It can cause insomnia and disturbed sleep patterns.
- Coffee has actually been labeled by the World Health Organization as a "true drug" and meets the criteria for drug addiction.
- It interferes with the body's use of B vitamins.
- It can damage blood vessels and increase the risk of heart disease
- Almost all coffee is grown overseas, mostly in third world countries. It is a heavily sprayed crop and in many of these countries, there are very few (if any) restrictions on pesticide use.
- Coffee stimulates the adrenal glands. This may give us a temporary boost, but over time it drains the adrenals and can lead to extreme fatigue and burnout. Adrenals also affect our hormone levels, so in time, drinking coffee may contribute to hormone imbalance.
- It raises the level of acidity in the blood. When blood levels are too acidic, minerals like calcium begin to be pulled from the bones and teeth in an attempt to make the blood more alkaline.
- Coffee does offer temporary stimulation, but in the long run it creates addiction and dependence, and excessive fatigue. It causes us to push ourselves harder when our body is telling us to slow down and masks the symptoms of our fatigue. Eventually, though, it catches up with us and we will find ourselves chronically exhausted and drained.
- The stimulating effect of caffeine can cause heart palpitations, jitters, nervousness, anxiety and a rise in blood pressure.
- Drinking more than 300 mg of caffeine a day (about 2-3 cups of coffee) while pregnant may increase the risk of miscarriage, a low-birth weight baby or birth defects.
- Has a negative effect on insulin levels (and therefore blood sugar balance), and even cholesterol levels
For all of these reasons, I have sought to relinquish the grip that coffee has on my taste buds. Surely, I thought, there must be other drinks out there that could satisfy in similar ways but with less negative effects. Lo and behold, I found some!
Some Tasty Coffee Alternatives
Teeccino is probably my favorite substitute! I have tried many other grain coffees and none of them taste as nice or are quite as satisfying and similar to coffee as this one. It comes in a wide variety of flavors (I love their Maya Cafe and Almond Amaretto), and it seems a bit more authentic because it is brewed just like coffee. You can use it in a regular drip machine, in an espresso maker, or in a french press (my method of choice). It's wonderful hot or cold. Just as the name suggests, it's a substitute but not exactly the same. That said, I definitely find (and know that many others would agree) that this is the closest and best substitute out there, by far!
Instant Grain "Coffee" Beverages
Usually made with ingredients like chicory, barley, inulin, nuts, carob, etc. these drinks can be made just like instant coffee and make a warm and comforting drink. I've tried a few different ones: Inka, Roma and Postum. I think that Inka may be my favorite. The thing is, they don't really taste like coffee. Any of them. You can pretend that they're coffee, doll them up with cream and sweetener, and sip them slowly on a cold winter morning. Just accept that the taste is different, and you might find that you learn to enjoy them for what they are- a coffee alternative (not coffee).
You can drink them either hot or turn them into an iced coffee-style drink. Here's a favorite recipe of mine for Blender Mochas. I make this with Teeccino (have to brew it first), occasionally Swiss Water Process decaf coffee, and often with these instant grain beverages (which are handy because they're instant so you don't need to brew it first).
Naturally high in antioxidants and caffeine free, this tea from South Africa is a wonderful choice! I have recently fallen in love with it. It's incredible by itself, and I also really enjoy it with a little bit of sweetener or stevia and some milk or cream. We've found a few different variations on Rooibos (I say "we" because both my husband and I are now totally into it), including a spiced one called Ruby Chai (by Numi) and a vanilla rooibos (many different brands have their own vanilla variation). The Nourishing Gourmet also has a delicious Iced Rooibos recipe, perfect for hot summer days. It uses coconut milk to make it creamy, which I do find yummy, though I'm partial to using raw cow's milk instead.
And if giving up coffee altogether is just too much...
Could you cut down by just a cup or two each day and try to find an alternative you enjoy instead?
What about working on that addiction by slowly adding Swiss Water Process decaf coffee to your regular brew, until the caffeine addiction is no longer an issue for you?
Could you be satisfied by mostly going without, and just savor the occasional cup of really amazing, fair trade/organic coffee, instead of turning to it more frequently?
Here's a quick run-down on making better choices when you'd still like actual coffee:
(And yes, I confess that I do still sometimes choose to indulge, and these are the choices I try to make when those indulgences come)
Fair Trade and/or Organic (also called Shade-Grown or Ecological) - In a nutshell, by purchasing these coffees instead of the regular coffee brands that line the shelves, you are supporting hard-working farmers with a fair wage, reducing the amount of toxic chemical fertilizers and pesticides used (which are not only toxic to our bodies, but to the environment and the farmers as well), and helping to stop the clear-cutting of rainforest and the loss of animal and bird habitats (these trees are being cut down to make way for denser planting by conventional farmers). For more information, read this article. If you frequent coffee shops, check out your local ones to find out which use Fair Trade coffee. In our area, we like The Wired Monk which is all fair trade and organic. New brands of fair trade coffee are popping up all over the place, so look around in the coffee aisle or in your local health food store when you want to buy some to brew at home.
Swiss Water Process Decaffeinated- You'd think that choosing decaf coffee would be a better choice, healthwise, but it's really not. Unfortunately the process is typically done using nasty chemical solvents and the end result is probably worse for you than just having the real thing, caffeine and all. However, there is a method called Swiss Water Process which is able to remove almost all of the caffeine, but in a chemical-free way. Check out this website to learn more about how the process works. There are many brands out there using this process now, so look for these words specifically on the label before you buy.