Mix up your morning beverage
While the verdict on the nitty gritty science may be out, I think we can learn a lot from our own bodies when it comes to coffee and specifically caffeine intake. Pretty much every substance we eat has some nutritional benefits--as well as some downsides--but we often benefit from examining our bodies and lives holistically, not just focusing on specific risks or nutrients.
For example, one researcher evaluated studies that showed that those who drink 6-7 cups of coffee a day have a 35% reduced risk of having Type 2 diabetes. Great news! Except if you (like me) have trouble sleeping when you even one cup of coffee, then a daily deluge of 6-7 cups would probably significantly hurt your overall health and happiness, despite what these studies show.
While many people do well on a large amount of coffee (or high caffeine beverages) a day, many of us don't. It leaves us feeling drained, anxious or with upset stomachs and headaches. If you are looking to reduce your coffee intake and want some lower-caffeine options, keep reading.
Three beverages to help you swap out coffee
This is probably the most oft-cited substitute for coffee and with good reason. Tea typically contains less than half the caffeine content of coffee and it's processed by the body more slowly so that you receive a more gentle, sustained energy boost than a big coffee jolt. You can really substitute any kind of tea you like--black, oolong, green or white--knowing that the blacks and oolongs are brewed at higher temperatures, meaning more caffeine will be extracted. Brew your green and white teas with hot water (not boiling) and just for a few minutes to make sure they don't get too bitter-tasting.
Good pick for you if: you still want to get a little caffeine and like a cozy, warm beverage in a mug. Green tea also makes a great 2nd beverage for the day if you want to have your morning coffee and then switch to something lighter in the late morning or afternoon.
My favorites: Republic of Tea Daily Green Tea is often my go-to at regular grocery store, as is Eden Organic Sencha. When I'm feeling fancier, I shop at Tea Gschwendner or Spirit Tea in Chicago, and look for Japanese greens that have a smoother, more vegetal taste that I really enjoy.
Ahh, kombucha, how I love you so much! Kombucha is a fizzy, cold beverage made by fermenting sweetened tea. The yeast culture (or "mother" in kombucha talk) eats the sugar to create a carbonated, tart, probiotic drink. Kombucha usually has 1/3 of the caffeine of the tea it was made from, so this is a good choice later in the day.
Interested in fermenting your own kombucha? Check out this detailed post by one of my favorite natural food bloggers, Sarah B. of My New Roots. Store-bought brands are becoming more and more accessible; just be careful to read the labels. Many companies mix kombucha with juice or add additional caffeine or sweeteners like Stevia so just be sure you know what you are getting if you want to avoid any of that.
Good pick for you if: you want an itsy bit of caffeine and want a variety of flavors to choose from. Kombucha is also cold and refreshing, making it a really good summer pick-me-up and substitute for soda. Kombucha can also contain a small amount of alcohol (.5%) from the fermentation so keep that in mind if that's something you avoid.
My favorites: I've been pretty loyal to G.T.'s and buy their Multi-Greens and Gingerade flavors. It's probably the most widely available brand and you can even find it at Target. Lately I've shopped Kevita's Grapefuit and Dragonfruit Lemongrass and also enjoy Arize Kombucha from Chicago.
Dandy Blend is a product made from a combination of dandelion, beet and chicory roots. You dissolve it in hot water and it creates a hot, coffee-like beverage. What does it taste like? Well, my brother-in-law said that Dandy Blend "tastes like what I imagine the pioneers used to drink." So yeah, don't expect this to replace your Intelligentsia Pour Over, but I'd still put it above your average diner cup of Joe. It's actually slightly sweeter than coffee and has almost no acidity, just that roasty, robust coffee taste.
In my Go! Boosting Energy cooking class, I make Dandy Blend lattes as the nightcap to the class and they've always gone over very well. Simply heat up almond milk (or your milk of choice) and stir in a teaspoon or two of Dandy Blend. It dissolves right into the drink, making it easy to mix up quickly, even at work.
Good for you if: you like the ritual and taste of coffee but want to eliminate caffeine. Dandy Blend is the most coffee-like thing I've had (and seemingly less processed than decaf coffee, which of course, still contains a little caffeine). It's also great if you like a post-dinner cup of coffee with dessert and don't want to be kept up at night.
My favorites: Dandy Blend is one brand, rather than a type of beverage and you can get it online or at health food stores (try Dill Pickle Co-op in Chicago). My favorite way to make it is in the almond milk latte but you can also try using the brewed Dandy Blend in recipes that would normal call for coffee like brownies, mocha shakes or smoothies.