Does caffeine rule your life? You’re not alone. Many adults depend on this stimulant — usually in the form of coffee — to help them power through their morning without looking and feeling like a zombie. The problem is, too much of a good thing doesn’t always produce favorable results. Sometimes your heart, your brain, and your sleep schedule need a little break.
Have you actually ever tried swearing off caffeine completely? It’s not pleasant. But even though cutting back will probably still result in a withdrawal headache worthy of breaking records, you can still get caffeine in other ways — not through pills or powder, but in a number of foods and other drinks.
The health benefits (and risks) of caffeine
The effects of caffeine, biologically, aren’t universal. Everyone reacts to it differently. However, past studies have suggested many people can benefit from a little bit of caffeine. It isn’t a miracle drug — it probably won’t make you live longer, at least not in the sci-fi manner of the concept. But even though it might cause some unwanted side effects for some people, there’s a reason it’s legal.
The benefits: You already likely know that caffeine makes you more alert and (usually) helps you focus more attentively on tasks. Eating or drinking caffeine regularly also might have long term benefits, though. According to The Telegraph, a healthy dose of daily caffeine might make you smarter. It also decreases your risk for conditions like type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and certain types of cancers.
The risks: For most people, a little bit of caffeine every day — even up to 400 milligrams in many cases — only leads to major jitters, but not much more. However, Medical News Today warns that consuming 500 milligrams or more consistently can lead to a long list of health problems. If you’re struggling with unexplained restlessness, insomnia, nervousness, irritability, or stomach issues, you might consider cutting back on your coffee consumption — or all caffeine, for that matter.
Is coffee bad for your health?
Out of all the possible sources of caffeine out there, coffee is probably one of the most popular. (Just think of how many Starbucks stores you likely pass — OK, make a quick stop at — on your way to and from work.) Even though there are some claims that drinking too much coffee can give you heart disease or cancer, Mayo Clinic says this probably doesn’t apply to everyone. Besides, as you read above, this is one of those cases in which the benefits of a substance outweigh the risks.
If you don’t like the way coffee affects you, you don’t have to drink it. But your world (probably) isn’t going to end any sooner just because you have a slight addiction to your coffee maker.
Despite its benefits, you don’t have to rely on coffee alone to give yourself an often much needed caffeine boost. The nice thing about getting your caffeine from alternative sources is that coffee provides about 100 milligrams of caffeine per 8-ounce cup — and most sources will give you way less than that. If you’re extra sensitive to the drug’s effects — or you’re just trying to cut back, which isn’t the worst decision you’ll make today — you can give yourself micro-doses without sending your body into a frenzy of uncontrollable jitters.
Here are some surprising — and mostly healthy — caffeine sources to satisfy you without destroying your productivity (and sleep).
Amount of caffeine: 12 milligrams per ounce
Though it’s usually thought of as a dessert food, in small amounts, chocolate has a large number of health benefits. Dark chocolate is actually high in fiber and iron. It’s also loaded with antioxidants — so a small square per day might make you look and feel younger (just don’t eat too much, because sugar tends to have the opposite effect). There are also studies that suggest eating dark chocolate can lower your blood pressure, raise your HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and increase blood flow to your brain.
Did you know?
Coffee might not endanger your health, but caffeine powder almost certainly will. Unlike coffee, anything made with caffeine powder is extremely concentrated — caffeine in powder form is much more potent than you might expect. People have actually died from overdoses because they didn’t realize they were consuming lethal amounts of caffeine. A single teaspoon could have as much caffeine as up to 75 cups of coffee. You’re definitely better off sticking with coffee or chocolate to get your “fix.”
Amount of caffeine: 2 milligrams per bar
Many brands of protein bars manage to pack a lot of nutrition into a small handheld serving — not just protein, but also fiber, B vitamins, and yes, even caffeine. Unfortunately, many flavored varieties are just too overloaded with sugar and empty calories to be considered healthy — the “risks” cancel out the nutritional value. However, homemade protein bars are the perfect opportunity to combine healthy carbs, protein, and caffeine.
Amount of caffeine: 2 milligrams per 1/2 cup
Ice cream isn’t all bad — not even chocolate, which usually has at least some caffeine per serving. According to SF Gate, you can get a small amount of calcium and maybe even a little protein per half cup. This doesn’t mean you’re allowed to have ice cream with every meal, of course. We’re not even suggesting you eat it every day (okay, maybe just one small scoop). However, you can also hunt for brands that are lower in added sugars and calories to make your indulgence worth your while.
Did you know?
Caffeine takes only 10 minutes to have noticeable physical and psychological effects. These effects reach their high point within about 45 minutes — so if you have an important task to do and only 30 minutes to complete it, grab yourself a (small!) bowl of ice cream ASAP. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the effects of caffeine don’t wear off for anywhere between 4 and 6 hours after first consuming it.
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