Last week I wrote about foods that will do wonders for your mood. One thing I didn’t mention in that piece, however, was why you might want to think about easing back on a certain little trouble-making drug from your diet.
You know it and you probably know it well (I know I do!): caffeine.
Caffeine is a drug found in coffee, tea, soft drinks, those evil energy drinks, and chocolate, and a lot of people have quite a solid relationship with at least one of these four items. I very much enjoy my coffee, so I can relate to any of you with dependence issues!
The question is . . . is caffeine a friend or a foe?
I’m not going to tell you that caffeine should be avoided altogether so don’t worry about that. Coffee is great but let’s look at some information about the effects caffeine has on the human body, and then you can go ahead and draw your own conclusions from there. Sound like a plan?
Ever wonder why you feel the effects of caffeine in your system so quickly? It’s because it goes straight to your hormones and stays in your system for hours. Once you’ve ingested it, caffeine causes the following hormonal responses:
Adrenaline rush. Caffeine gives you that adrenaline rush that perks you up. It puts you in “fight or flight” mode so that your body is sitting there at your desk on edge, waiting for something to respond to. That state will end up leaving you tired later on so you need more coffee to bring you out of the doldrums. From there, you’ll be jumpy and agitated, reaching for more caffeine or sugar to make you feel good.
Adenosine inhibition. Adenosine is a hormone that calms your body, and caffeine inhibits its absorption. That’s why you feel alert just after you drink a coffee and why you sometimes can’t sleep for even hours afterward.
Increased Cortisol. Caffeine makes your body create more cortisol which is also known as the stress hormone. When you have too much cortisol in your system, you end up moody but you can also gain weight, and develop heart disease or even diabetes. (although coffee can actually help diabetes type 2 and is often recommended just like cinnamon is for diabetics, but too much is too much).
Increased Dopamine. When you consume caffeine, your body will increase its levels of dopamine giving you the same sort of feelings as if you were using amphetamines. That makes you feel happy for a little while, but when the buzz wears off, you feel worse than you did before.
Now, caffeine isn’t all bad.
While it can lead to weight gain because of increased cortisol levels (which can also make you crave fatty sugary carbs), some research suggests that caffeine can speed up your metabolism. If you consume caffeine before exercise, it can also help your body break down fat more efficiently. If you combine your morning coffee with exercise, for example, it may help enhance your performance and you’ll have a boost from the exercise that will help negate any slump in your mood from the effects of the caffeine wearing off.
What does this tell us?
Caffeine can be a foe, but it can be a friend if you take it in small, controlled doses. You also may want to stop ingesting caffeine after 2 PM.
When you buy coffee, I recommend buying organic fair trade beans and grinding them yourself. Then brew your coffee with filtered water for the best cup. I’ve been grinding my own organic coffee beans since the 80s and I can hardly drink anything else!
Oh, about energy drinks. Don’t drink them. These canned beverages have between 80 to 500mg of caffeine per serving. 200mg of caffeine is what’s deemed safe for human consumption. A can of this stuff can also contain up to 14 teaspoons of sugar. Those little 5-Hour Energy “shots” you see in gas stations and convenience stores have actually been implicated in at least 13 deaths. Please don’t let your children drink these things!
If you have a major caffeine addiction, you can experience serious withdrawal symptoms when you try to cut back, such as headaches or irritability. To negate those nasty effects, be sure to drink lots of water to help flush excess caffeine from your body. As you try to cut out the caffeine, start mixing it with non-caffeinated versions (so coffee with decaf or tea with herbal). As a general rule, if you drink more than a couple of cups of java a day, you might want to consider drinking half regular and half decaf – organic, please! Use a water-processed decaf coffee, too, because you don’t need any extra chemicals.
Have you beaten a caffeine addiction? Tell us about it here!
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