Eating Clean – With A Little Caffeine

Caffeine — some of us manage it better than others. One’s ability to tolerate it depends a lot on how well your body metabolizes it or doesn’t. Some people may be sensitive to even the trace amounts found in a cup of decaf, while others barely feel the effects of a 20-ounce cup of dark roast.

Keep in mind though, sensitive or not, too much caffeine can pump up the stress hormones and upset the gut, so even if you fall in the don’t-feel-a-thing category, you might want to keep a lid on your caffeine consumption.

Is caffeine bad for you? The jury’s out and with all the contradictory studies being published just about every day it’s hard to say when we’ll have a definitive answer. However, if you’re eating a clean, healthy diet, a bit of caffeine won’t destroy your hard work. In fact, I’ve seen virtually no convincing evidence that a limited amount—for instance, one daily 8 to 10 oz cup of coffee or a few cups of tea— causes any real harm.

In other words, enjoy a daily “cuppa” – but in the case of coffee, be conscious of the cup size. With caffeinated teas, cut yourself off after the third cup. Also, try to drink the healthiest, most earth-friendly versions possible – some combination of local, organic, non-GMO, shade-grown, and fair trade are good places to start. If you must add sweetener, keep it to a minimum and stick to a small amount of wholesome raw honey or raw stevia (no agave syrup or stuff in blue, yellow or pink packets — you know who you are!).

So why do I feel that a bit of caffeine is OK when so many rail against it? Well, first and foremost, I’m a pragmatist. I believe the evils of caffeine have been a bit oversold. In fact, over the past few years, the research on coffee and tea has actually shifted to studying the positive effects, mostly attributed to the polyphenols. Coffee has shown preliminary promise in reducing the risk of both Parkinson’s disease and type 2 diabetes, and evidence for other benefits is brewing.

White, green and black tea all contain caffeine, but black tea has the stronger dose—the leaves are fermented which liberates the caffeine. A particular polyphenol compound, EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), found most abundantly in green tea, has been shown, mostly in animal and cell culture studies, to increase the sensitivity of the insulin response and to help keep blood sugar levels stable.

If you fall in the caffeine-sensitive camp or just wish to avoid getting an ill-timed buzz before bed, caffeine-free herbal teas work well any time of the day and come complete with medicinal benefits that also happen to be tasty and comforting. Among my favorites:
-- Cinnamon and chai tea (without added sweetener) deliver sweetness and can improve blood sugar.
-- Hibiscus tea is good for the vascular system.
-- Red or rooibos tea contains compounds that have been found to lower stress hormone levels.
-- Ginger and peppermint tea, along with teas that contain a mix of herbs, have gut-soothing effects and can be used for occasional help with constipation.

For more ideas on how to enhance your health with ease, take a look at 7 Steps to a Healthier You!


-By Kathie Madonna Swift, MS, RDN, LDN, FAND, EBQ with additional reporting by Kate Doyle Hooper


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