Cuppa tea anyone? Staying hydrated - what’s the big deal?
Tea and coffee can become our best friend; they make us feel good! Deeply ingrained in our culture, we come together to drink these warm and comforting drinks, meeting a friend for coffee, sharing experiences over a good cuppa' tea, or just enjoying a bit of 'me time' on a morning break. But is this culture all it’s cracked up to be? What if we understood the effects of tea and coffee on our body - would it change the way we did things?
Reducing tea and coffee can be one of the hardest challenges, and like most things in life, it's not until we understand the why that we're able to make an informed decision. But the evidence stacks up pretty well, that sticking to one or two cups of caffeinated drinks a day is enough. Use them as a treat, take real pleasure in their drinking, and be mindful about the process.
Like almost everything in life, quality and moderation are key to good health. These drinks do have some great health benefits, but once you overdo it, then the problems come flooding in, and the negatives outweigh the positives.
If you are a 'ten a day-er', then my serious piece of advice is to spend a month focusing on this aspect of your drink intake and cutting back. You can wean yourself down one cup at a time, using many alternatives that are both delicious and nutritious. This is not a hardship - it is just a choice to be made, and when you decide to change, it is easier than you’d imagine.
Advantages, disadvantages, and alternatives
Great quality, freshly brewed organic tea and coffee are high in antioxidants - such as polyphenols - that are extremely beneficial when consumed in moderation. One-two cups a day is enough to get the health benefits.
- green or matcha tea has many more times the antioxidants than black tea
- the caffeine in tea and coffee increases alertness, focus and stimulates brain activity
- some studies show the stimulating effects of caffeine may protect against dementia
- coffee can enhance exercise performance and improve focus
- tea and coffee can boost the immune system and protect from cardiovascular disease
Health issues with over-consumption
- Coffee and tea are diuretics (i.e. they can be dehydrating)
- Being dehydrated creates a huge obstacle for our bodies that are only ever trying to stay in balance.
- Dehydration can lead to chronic constipation, with numerous knock-on health effects such as hormone imbalance and digestive issues.
- Dehydration will cause low energy, as every cell in our body needs water to create energy. A vicious cycle is easily set up when we are dehydrated, as there is a craving for coffee to provide energy, leading to dehydration.
- Caffeine is a stimulant which prompts the body to release cortisol (the stress hormone) - not great if you already have issues with chronic stress in your life!
- Caffeine can increase anxiety levels and cause palpitations, as it triggers the release of adrenaline. If you have any anxiety issues at all then I would make cutting down on caffeinated drinks a priority. Go slowly and gently, but cut right down to one a day, maximum.
- Too much caffeine at the wrong time of day can make restorative sleep difficult, leading to insomnia, restlessness, and fatigue. Caffeine can remain in the system from two-nine hours depending on the individual. Again, a vicious cycle forms where we are too exhausted to try to even think about breaking the caffeine-induced cycle, but for your health and well-being, this is a really important cycle to break.
- Caffeine can stimulate bowel movements and lead to diarrhoea in some people who have a sensitive digestive system. Some people believe they need caffeine to go to the toilet, but in my experience, other warm drinks can have an equal effect. If constipation is an issue, other nutritional habits should be reviewed.
- Tannins in tea bind to minerals such as iron and calcium, preventing their absorption. This is particularly concerning if you are anaemic, or menopausal with risks of osteoporosis (hereditary or otherwise).
- Tea and coffee are considered to have an acidic effect on the body, increasing inflammation. All chronic disease has inflammation as its root, so cutting back is vital for optimising good health.
- Tea and coffee are well known to be heavily pesticide-sprayed crops, so choose organic wherever possible.
- Drinking tea and coffee all day means you are less likely to drink water or other drinks that will ensure you are well hydrated!
Ultimately, as with all things, balance is key - aim for one cup of tea and coffee a day to get the health benefits without the disadvantages.
Ways to begin making changes
- keep tabs on what you are drinking, as it’s important to know the scale of this issue
- start by pushing back that first cup to an hour later, so it becomes a real treat that you savour, and instead begin the day with an alternative (see below)
- rather than meeting a friend for coffee, meet for a walk or another activity
- buy some new herbal teas; the options are incredible and most of them are delicious
- increase your water intake to ensure you are better hydrated, which will give you more energy and you will become less reliant on caffeine
- cut back one day at a time, aiming for no more than one or two cups a day
- notice how you are feeling; always be kind to yourself and take it slow and steady
- Hot water with lemon and ginger; this stimulates the digestive system and metabolism and is great to drink upon waking as it's very hydrating.
- Green tea is high in antioxidants and can help boost metabolism (try different flavours).
- Hot water with fresh mint - great for easing digestive problems.
- Hot water with a stick of cinnamon - delicious, warming, and great for balancing blood sugar levels.
- Herbal teas are hydrating and, in many instances, have medicinal benefits too.
- Miso soup - a delicious savoury alternative with benefits for gut health.
- At nighttime - chamomile in the evening aids relaxation and sleep.
- Golden milk - a non-dairy drink made with turmeric paste.