Naturopathy & Nutrition

Coffee Conversation

Written by naturopath Jessie Denmeade

There’s no doubt about it…we Australians love our coffee. Collectively, we consume 37 million kilograms of coffee per year, with almost 19 million of us drinking at least 1 cup of coffee daily.

We’ve all heard about the antioxidant properties of coffee. But coffee also has phytochemicals that inhibit the reuptake of neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, which make us feel really good. The down side is that coffee also causes our adrenal glands to release cortisol (one of our primary stress hormones). It is largely due to this that we experience our greater sense of alertness and increased energy. We have essentially pushed our bodies into a stressed state (fight or flight) which will increase our performance at the time, but at the expense of less urgent things like immune function, digestion and hormone regulation. These elevated cortisol levels also draw glucose from our tissues into our blood stream so that it’s more rapidly accessible to our brain and muscles (in case of an emergency – flight or flight). However, when we have elevated levels of free circulating glucose in our blood long-term, this can lead to reduced insulin sensitivity and central adiposity (aka belly fat). And if we’re drinking coffee all day everyday, this starts to get pretty long-term. The increased cortisol is also responsible for the sleep disturbances and anxiety often associated with caffeine use. This all adds up to looking like a good reason to cut back on your coffee intake.

If you’re anything like me, a large part of the love affair with my morning coffee, is the ritual. The smell of the granules, the warmth of the flames as the percolator settles down to cook, the sound of the coffee bubbling up to readiness. It’s all a part of the magic. However, recently as I settled down to sleep for the night, dreaming of getting up in the morning so that I could make myself a coffee, I realised that I was in too deep and it was time to take a break. But I had no intention of missing out on my morning ritual. 

Regardless of how you have your coffee in the morning (instant, percolator, filter coffee) there are delicious substitutions for everyone. An incredible herbalist and beautiful friend made me an exception blend of herbs and seeds to use in my percolator. It contains roasted cacao nibs, wattle seeds, roasted dandelion root and chicory. It’s full-bodied with a nutty flavour and strong chocolate notes. Most of these ingredients are available to us at regular health food stores. If you are someone who experiences caffeine withdrawals, like headaches and migraines, constipation, etc. you don’t need to stop cold turkey. Dandelion root blends beautifully with coffee. You can start by just reducing your coffee intake. Blend your coffee 50:50 with a roasted dandi root or chicory when you’re making it, and gradually adjust the ratio until you’re coffee free. Dandelion root also happens to be a liver tonic herb, and can assist with the constipation that many people experience when quitting coffee. Chicory also has compounds that support healthy digestive function. There are also some delicious instant medicinal mushroom blends on the market now, which can be used exactly like instant coffee, blending well with honey and your milk of choice. 

I’ve been without coffee for a month now and I’m sure my adrenals thank me for it. It’s not goodbye (I love her too much). But this break has allowed me to expand my palate for new herbal alternatives, given my adrenals an opportunity to take a break and allowed for a deeper sense of resting in my body. All good things in moderation. Let our coffee be a celebration rather than an addiction. Love it, rather than need it. 

If you would like assistance in reducing (or eliminating) your caffeine in take, feel free to reach out. I am more than happy to talk you through the option, brands and sources. 

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