If you're a coffee purist, turn away now. Those looking for Cuppa Joe alternatives for when coffee gives you the jitters, makes anxiety worse, insomnia more frequent, or the bowels down right cranky and inflamed? ... this is for you!
1. Matcha - moderate caffeine content
Matcha is a finely ground powder of the Japanese green tea plant (Camellia sinensis). It is rich is polyphenols, plant chemicals that have been shown to reduce the risk of chronic illness. This is a fantastic option if you are wanting to reduce the coffee-induced sweats or anxiety but still get a buzz to help to gain focus and stamina.
Bioactive compounds in matcha
L-theanine - amino acid. Relaxing but not sedating, enhances focus
Polyphenols - potent antioxidant Reduces oxidative stress and inflammation that may lead to lipid oxidation.
EGCG - anticarcinogenic, potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immune-modulator
2. Hot cacao - low caffeine content
Cacao has been used to make chocolate and considered medicinal by traditional cultures of centuries. Raw cacao (Theobroma cacao), like green tea, is known for its high levels of antioxidant polyphenols and mood-enhancing theobromine. Hot chocolate is no new thing, but hot cacao made using raw cacao powder is what contains the health benefits compared to food and drinks made from is processed cousin, cocoa. This one is great with a touch of cinnamon powder.
Bioactive compounds in cacao
Polyphenols - potent anti-oxidant. Reduces oxidative stress and inflammation that may lead to lipid oxidation.
Methylxanthines: Theobromine and caffeine (very low percentage is found in cacao). Plant alkaloids. Bitter in taste. Theobromine is known to be anti-microbial. Both compounds are mood enhancing and stimulating*
*Just like people's reaction to caffeine in coffee, each person can have a different response to the stimulating affect of the small amount of caffeine and theobromine in cacao/chocolate. You may notice mental stimulation and therefore sleep disturbance if
you eat chocolate or a hot cacao close to bed. Others may find it helpful as a calming ritual and rich magnesium food source.
3. Roasted Dandelion root - caffeine free
As an herbalist, I am a big advocate for dandelion root (Taraxicum off. radix). In herbal medicine I prescribe varying doses of dandelion root to stimulate digestion.
You can easily find unsweetened, roasted dandelion root (sometimes blended with chicory, another fantastic bitter herb) from health food stores and some supermarkets.
Bioactive compounds in dandelion
These are bitter compounds that stimulate liver and gallbladder activity for increased digestive function
4. Mushroom 'coffee' - caffeine free
There are a lot of different mushroom powders now on the market with medicinal claims. There is indeed a growing body of research on a number of mushrooms in particular Reishi or Ling Zhi (Ganoderma lucidum), Chaga mushroom (Inonotus Obliquus), Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) and Lions Mane (Hericium erinaceus). Studies have shown a range of health benefits of certain mushrooms and are being studied in the realms of anti-cancer research, cardiovascular health, neurological health, and are considered 'adaptogenic'. As a naturopath, I may prescribe mushrooms to support immune function, energy production, and address allergies.
What is an adaptogen? An adaptogen is a compound or product that increases the resistance to physical, environmental, emotional or biological stress. It may restore normal physiological function and may be called a tonic.
So, mushrooms in your 'coffee'? As a drink? Hmm... If you're a regular at your local health food store you may be quite familiar with this delectable concept. There are numerous brands these days with 'coffee' or hot chocolate mushroom products that come in the form of a powder that you add to hot water or milk. Personally, I love them. Especially those that include spices like ginger, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper - a herbalist's winter's morning cuppa dream.
Bioactive compounds in mushrooms
One of the main active compounds in mushrooms are beta-glucans.
Why try a coffee alternative?
What all of these options have in common is a reduced level of caffeine compared to regular coffee and proven health benefits. There are many reasons people try to avoid or want to reduce their coffee intake. Some of these may be:
- To improve digestion, reduce reflux, aid mineral absorption.
- To support iron absorption from the diet. This is an important point for vegans and vegetarians, or anyone who has increased demands (pregnancy and lactation) or has limited iron intake.
- To minimise central nervous system stimulation and address anxiety or stress
- To improve energy levels. I see many clients who rely on coffee for energy. Reducing stimulation from caffeine (and nicotine) is a good start to assist natural energy production. Cold turkey can be hard which is why the above alternatives can be great options.
- To support overall gut and microbiome health
Maybe you're looking to cut the coffee or simply a way to enjoy a healthy hot cuppa every now and then in addition to your daily coffee. Whichever it is, keep in mind that taste buds change and, just like kids, we adults can learn to love something new, even after the 20th try.