Studies in recent years have determined that coffee is not as bad for you as health specialists had previously thought. But while coffee is not considered unhealthy, experts stop short of recommending that non-coffee drinkers get hooked. The reality is, though it can provide a comforting morning ritual, coffee often leaves us feeling jittery, anxious, weighed down with insomnia or heartburn, and depleted by mid-morning.
If these effects speak to you, there are plenty of other energizing ways to start your morning without experiencing any of the downsides of coffee. Here are 8 flavor-packed alternatives that will not only keep you satiated and energized, but will also provide you with body-nourishing, and even mood-altering nutritional benefits far exceeding those of a cup of coffee.
Chai au lait
With about half the caffeine of a cup of coffee, black tea is also rich with antioxidants like flavonoids, which protect your cells from the damaging effects of aging. A chai spice blend contains ginger, a soothing aid to digestion, and cinnamon, an anti-inflammatory. A chai au lait will not only energize you, it also warming, calming, and a delicious start to your day.
Boil your favorite black tea in 2 cups of water with chai spice blend: 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ground ginger, ½ tsp black pepper, ½ tsp cloves, and ½ tsp cardamom. Once boiled, strain the liquid into a mug and add your favorite milk and honey or agave to sweeten (serves 1-2).
Matcha has about the same amount of caffeine as black tea, but is unique in that it also contains L-Theanine, an amino acid that calms the body and stimulates alpha brain waves. EGCg content revs up your metabolism, and because the powder is also rich in fiber, adding a matcha tea to your morning routine will help regulate your blood sugar to keep you satisfied until lunch.
Mix 1 ¼ tsp. matcha powder with 1 tbsp. hot water and whisk until the powder is fully dissolved. Add 1 ½ cups heated milk of choice (macadamia nut milk is delicious with matcha), and honey or agave to sweeten (serves 1).
Brewed from the leaves of a South American holly tree, a strong cup of yerba mate has about the same amount of caffeine as espresso--without any of the jittery effects. Antioxidants and over 20 vitamins and minerals come as an added bonus.
You can enjoy yerba mate tea as you would any other loose tea—brewed hot or iced, with or without sweetener. Yerba tastes similar to green tea, but with a slightly bitter, woodsy flavor that some might consider an acquired taste. Honey adds a nice balance to the tea's earthiness.
Coconut water is a great way to start your morning feeling hydrated and refreshed, especially if you're an early gym-goer. Coconut water contains about as much potassium as a banana and restores electrolytes as effectively as a Gatorade—only without the extra sugar and calories.
Drink it straight up or try a coconut water smoothie. Mix 1 cup of coconut water with 1 cup of berries and/or unsweetened acai or pitaya, and ½ banana. Top with coconut flakes (serves 1).
Turmeric "golden mylk"
Turmeric, the spice that gives curry its rich golden color, is loaded with healthy nutrients like curcumin, an anti-inflammatory that is linked to improved brain function. Curcumin has also been found to affect serotonin and dopamine levels, helping to improve your morning mood.
In a small saucepan add 1 ½ cups of your milk of choice (feel free to mix and match—a little coconut milk adds a welcome thickness to almond milk), ¾ tsp. ground turmeric, ⅛ tsp. ground ginger, 1 cinnamon stick, ½ tsp. coconut oil, and a pinch of ground pepper. Warm but do not bring to a boil, and serve with a sprinkle of cinnamon and honey or agave to sweeten (serves 1).
With 40 times the amount of antioxidants as blueberries, iron, and cavity-fighting fluoride, raw cacao powder is a nutritional powerhouse. Cacao also improves your mood by boosting serotonin and providing body-energizing magnesium and the "bliss molecule," anandamide. Not to mention that cacao powder comes from, and tastes like, chocolate.
You can brew cacao as you would coffee in a French press, or, for a sweeter treat blend 1 cup of your milk of choice with 1 tbsp. raw cacao powder, 1-2 dates, and 1/8 tsp. vanilla extract in a blender until smooth. Heat in the microwave or in a saucepan to just a boil (serves 1).
Maca powder, from the Peruvian maca root, is jam-packed with magnesium, vitamins, iron, and fiber, but it's real magic is its positive effect on our adrenal glands. Maca has been shown to lessen adrenal fatigue and balance hormones, eradicating morning sluggishness and stress.
Maca powder has a buttery, nutty flavor so could easily be added to any of your favorite smoothie recipes. For an indulgent after-gym snack (without any added sugar) blend 1 cup of your milk of choice, 1 banana, 1 tbsp. almond or cashew butter, 1 tbsp. maca powder, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, and ice in a blender until smooth (serves 1).
Worried about the withdrawal effects of transitioning away from coffee? There's no need to go cold turkey. For the first few weeks, try lessening the amount of coffee you drink daily, and replacing 1-2 days with an another energy-boosting beverage until you're ready to move on altogether. Your body will feel so good, you'll forget you even had to leave coffee behind.