Cutting down on caffeine

Many of us enjoy a morning cuppa – it’s a perfectly fine pastime and a leisurely way to start the day. But if you’re finding you need multiple coffees just to get through the day, it may be time to consider cutting back on your caffeine habit.

Coffee is the obvious ‘heart-starter’, but caffeine can also be found in teas, soft drinks and energy drinks, as well as some chocolates, ice-cream and even ‘decaffeinated’ coffee. When you add it all up, you may find you’re consuming a lot more than you think.

So, why does it matter?

In small doses, caffeine can give your nervous system a kickstart and boost your alertness and concentration levels – hence its popularity for instant energy. However, when you consume too much, it can cause anxiety, sleep problems, irritability, stomach upsets and energy ‘crashes’. The average tolerance level for a healthy adult is up to 400mg of caffeine per day, which equates to about four cups of coffee, 10 cans of soft drink or two energy drinks – but bear in mind they are maximums. If your consumption is at the higher end, it is particularly important for you to cut back in stages.

1. Avoid ‘cold turkey’
Caffeine withdrawal symptoms are real and can be seriously unpleasant. These symptoms can include headaches, irritability, fatigue, nausea and muscle tremors. Your body needs time to adjust, so it’s important to gradually reduce the amount of caffeine you consume, particularly if your habit is strong. Try cutting back by one cup a day for a week, and then drop another the following week, if needed. Slowly your tolerance will change, meaning you won’t need to consume as much for the same effect.

2. Try alternative drinks
With tea and coffee, the appeal is often about the ‘ritual’, particularly in the morning or during social catch-ups. So, why not switch the drink but keep the tradition instead? Herbal teas, decaffeinated coffee and coffee substitutes – such as chicory or dandelion, from health food stores –  can be satisfying brews, without the boost. And if all else fails, drink more water!

3. Healthy snacks
If you find yourself reaching for coffee or soft drink out of boredom, habit or an excuse to take a break, swap it for a nutritious snack such as a handful of nuts, fruit or vegetables, yoghurt or soy crackers. Almonds, walnuts, apples and bananas are also great energy-boosters.

4. Exercise
You may be sick of hearing how exercise can fix everything. And although it may seem like a broken record, exercise really does help your body and mind in so many ways. It creates energy, relieves nervous tension and makes you more alert – many of the reasons why we grab a coffee in the first place.

Have you tried cutting back on caffeine? Do you have any advice that you’d like to share with our members?

Related articles:
Is coffee good for you?
Five surprising benefits of coffee
The hidden dangers of caffeine

Written by Louise Baxter

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