There’s a horrifying trend gaining popularity in the holistic world lately. It’s got coffee connoisseurs like myself second guessing our choice of beverage in the morning. You guessed it… coffee is the latest villain in the wellness world. Villain may be slightly dramatic but you get the picture. Just like too much of anything, coffee can be bad for your health (hello anxiety). In this post we’ll discuss some healthy swaps, superfoods and supplements you can add to your morning cup of joe for a kick of caffeine + health
First, lets talk about the health benefits of our ole friend joe. When your not over doing it, a cup of coffee is actually packed with some pretty powerful benefits. For starters coffee provides one of the highest amounts of antioxidants in the Western diet. Antioxidants help rid the body of toxic free radicals that cause inflammation and disease. Most people on a standard Western diet aren’t receiving enough antioxidants due to a lack of fruits and vegetables. In this case your morning cup of coffee may be one of your highest antioxidant sources of the day. (This isn’t a pass to chug coffee all day and skip your fruits/ veggies.) Antioxidants aren’t the only thing coffee packs. It also contains essential nutrients like vitamins B2, B5, B3, Potassium, and magnesium.
Studies have shown coffee to reduces the risk of certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, liver disease, and Parkinson’s disease. It’s also a great way to get your digestive tract moving first thing in the morning if you know what I mean. Learn more about the plentiful benefits of coffee in this Healthline article.
Now that we’re feeling all warm and fuzzy about our friend joe let’s boost this confidence even higher.
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Quality vs. Quantity
The type of coffee you’re drinking actually matters beyond a better flavor. Many coffee workers are exploited by unfair wages and working conditions that are less than humane. Choosing fair trade coffee helps ensure the workers behind your cup of bliss are treated and paid fairly. We as consumers have a social responsibility to purchase from brands that ensure their farmers are being taken care of. I encourage you to research the coffee brands you’re consuming. Stumptown Coffee is a great brand to start with as they visit each farm at least three times a year to ensure the famers are happy.
When you choose a smaller ethical brand you’re choosing quality. Toxicity reports on large coffee manufacturers show mold and harsh chemicals on roasted beans. If you have a small local roaster in your area that’s sourcing ethical beans they are your best choice by far. I feel like this last one is a given, but choosing organic and non GMO beans is important to reduce toxic chemicals in your body.
Sugar is one of the biggest culprits of inflammation in the body. If you’re someone who enjoys your coffee on the sweeter side try phasing out the refined sugar. There are some delicious sweet swaps that you may might find actually add even more flavor to your coffee. Raw honey and 100% pure maple syrup are probably your healthiest options. Make sure the only ingredients listed on the bottle are either honey or maple syrup. There are a lot of brands ‘health-washing’ their products to seem healthier than they really are but include additional ingredients. My favorite raw honey to use is a superfood honey that also contains bee pollen (immune support/ anti-inflammatory), propolis (anti-viral/ anti-bacterial/ anti-fungal) and royal jelly (heart health/ brain function).
Other alternative sweeteners include coconut sugar and stevia leaves. Try to stay away from agave nectar as it’s not really any healthier than refined sugar. This article by Medical News Today discusses agave nectar in depth. It’s often marketed as a safer natural sweetener, but extremely high in fructose and particularly dangerous to those with diabetes.
Probiotics & Prebiotics
Prebiotics are plant fibers that help to stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. They act somewhat as a fertilizer for the microscopic organisms in our body that make up the microbiome. Probiotics are the live healthy bacteria you want in your gut. What we feed our microbiome has one of the biggest impacts on our health. If you’re not receiving enough probiotics from your diet adding a probiotic supplement can help balance out the healthy bacteria in your gut keeping your microbiome in harmony. Your microbiome plays a huge role in mental health. Research is now showing that our gut is a direct link to the health of our brain. More on this later though.
Keep in mind that probiotics can’t survive in extreme heat so you’ll want to add this one to your cup of cold coffee. A liquid probiotic will work best in your favorite cold brew. Make sure you’re choosing one that has multiple strains of organisms instead of just a few. This will help give a good balance to your microbiome.
Your mom has probably been taking this for years for her hair, skin and nails but the health benefits run much deeper than beauty alone. Collagen makes up three quarters of our skin and a third of the proteins in our entire body. Collagen helps strengthen bones, lower blood pressure, and increase muscle mass in those strength training. It’s important to note that collagen is not vegan. There are some great marine collagen options in the market, but most collagen comes from cows. An unflavored collagen like this one from Vital Proteins is your best option for adding to coffee.
Adaptogenic herbs and mushrooms have been used in Ayurvedic medicine for hundreds of years. These powerhouse herbs help with everything from adrenal function, hormonal balance, boosting immunity and combating mental illness. Adaptogens help to improve how the body responds to physical stress. When we endure stress the body releases stress hormones triggering fight or flight mode. This creates physiological changes in the body like increased heart rate and blood pressure. While stress is unavoidable, prolonged stress in the body results in illness and decreased life expectancy. Adaptogens help the body overcome this state of maladaptive stress.
I’ve been using adaptogens in my morning coffee for years to help combat depression and anxiety. My favorites are maca root, reshi mushroom, and ashwagandha. If you’re interested in adding these to your diet as a natural mental health treatment it’s important to note that the effects aren’t something you’ll notice immediately. These herbs are not a quick fix for stress, but more so a daily routine to maintain mental health along with any treatment recommended by your physician. I use this particular blend by Navita.
When you hear about the benefits of chocolate they aren’t talking Hershey’s. That mocha latte you get at your favorite café holds little to no benefits. In fact, the high sugar content is outweighing any health benefits of whatever shred of raw cacao may be present in the chocolate used. If you’re craving a mocha try swapping that chocolate syrup for raw cacao powder.
Cacao is high in antioxidants and decreases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, reduces inflammation and acts as a mood booster. Cacao is another superfood that’s great for mental health. It helps to reduce cortisol (stress hormone) levels in the body and regulate neurotransmitters in the brain. Raw cacao has a pretty bitter taste so you’ll probably want to add a dash of cinnamon, maple syrup and cream to get more of a mocha feel.
Flavored Coffee Without Chemicals
You might want to think twice next time you grab for that flavored cup of coffee. Whether it’s flavored beans or flavored syrup they both pack a pretty toxic cup. Flavored beans are sprayed with synthetic flavors and oils while flavored syrups are often filled with sugar and chemicals. These artificial flavors may be safe in small doses (claims via the FDA), but your cup of joe would be much healthier without them. We’ve already talked about cacao as a mocha alternative. Other alternatives to try are 100% vanilla extract, 100% almond extract and pumpkin puree (add a dash of pumpkin spice herbs too).
Coffee cravings as a whole are nothing to feel guilty about. In moderation your daily cup of caffeine is filled with health benefits. By making these swaps you can easily classify your coffee as a superfood beverage. What’s your favorite way to drink coffee? Mine is over ice with adaptogens, cinnamon and a dash of honey.