The Truth About Caffeine

Caffeine Debunked
By: Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN; Reboot Nutritionist

March is National Caffeine Month, a perfect time to break down this controversial nutrition topic, as it’s also National Nutrition Month! Caffeine, coffee and health is a mixed bag and much more complex of an issue than “yes” or “no”, as with most things nutrition-related.  There are many details around consumption and personal health history that will influence what your healthiest option may be at any given moment. If you need more guidance on caffeine and you’re also looking to lose weight, our upcoming March Guided Reboot Programs are all about helping you with both. Spots are filling quickly for the next 30-Day Guided Reboot Program on March 22!

Surprising to some and a relief for others, moderate intake of caffeine may not be harmful and can actually offer health benefits. What is the magical number of “moderate” – 300 mg or less per day which is approximately 3, 8 oz. cups of coffee.  There are of course a variety of personal factors that would make that amount “too much” for some, like the elderly or anyone with high blood pressure for example.

Potential Health Benefits of Caffeine

  1. Cancer Risk Reduction

    • Preliminary studies show that green tea consumption may be associated with a reduced risk for  MelanomaTea consumption is linked with a reduced risk for cancers
    • Coffee specifically has been connected with lower risk for endometrial cancer
    • Tea and coffee both contain antioxidants as well as caffeine. These plant-based foods can offer immune-supportive benefits, just like vegetables
      BUT, unlike veggies where more is better, for caffeine, coffee and tea there is not a dose-response. Meaning that more is not the answer.  All the data points to this amount of about 1-3 cups per day, maximum.
  1. Reduce Risk of Gout

    • Moderate coffee consumption may help reduce risk of gout and decrease risk of accumulation of uric acid levels in the blood.
  1. Promote Liver Health

When It’s Smart to Cut Back

For some, caffeine can contribute to symptoms and amounts should be limited.  Avoiding sodas is a key behavior to promote health, try to keep caffeine to teas and coffee instead.  Soda consumption, especially added sugars, is linked with many chronic illnesses including diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

For those with migraine, diabetes and heart conditions, caffeine can wreck havoc on blood sugars, headache, heart rate or rhythm and contribute to anxiety, nervousness, dizziness, etc.

Why Cut Out Caffeine on a Reboot?

  • Learn to listen to your body’s internal cues for energy and rest
  • Improve sleep or better understand chronic tiredness
  • Adjust palate and train your taste buds to be less dependent on caffeine
    • Reduce tolerance levels; turn that need into a want
    • Decrease cravings for sugary foods and beverages (if you’re currently having the sweet type of coffee drinks)
    • Discover natural energy from consuming a healthy, plant-based diet

As you can see the risks vs. benefits are very individual, so there is no one right or wrong answer.  One of the most important aspects of cutting down on caffeine for your Reboot, or anytime, is making the process gradual to prevent ill effects of rapid withdrawal, like headache, fatigue, migraine trigger, nausea. 

Here’s a step by step guide to transition off or down from your morning buzz.

  1. Start by cutting caffeine intake in half. You can do this by having ½ decaf and ½ regular coffee. Drink no more than 3 cups of your caffeinated beverage – 1 or 2 are ideal.
  2. At the same time, cut down on sweetening with conventional milk or cream and sugar, especially artificial sugar substitutes. Instead, sweeten with coconut sugar or stevia and use organic milk. Or better yet, try organic non-dairy milks like coconut milk and almond milk.
  3. Keep cutting down by half each day, until by the end of the week you’ll be down to one cup max or none, and completely free of natural or artificial sweeteners or any type of milk or creamer. You’ll be consuming your remaining coffee or tea, “black.”

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Stacy Kennedy, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN; Reboot Nutritionist

Stacy is a Board Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition and an Integrative Nutritionist. She consults for various companies, focusing on health, wellness and innovative strategies to help increase individual’s fruit and vegetable intake. Stacy is an American College of Sports Medicine Certified Health Fitness Specialist; she holds a BS degree in Dietetics from Indiana University, completed her dietetic internship at Massachusetts General Hospital, and earned a Masters in Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is a Senior Clinical Nutritionist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute/Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School teaching affiliates, in Boston, MA, with more than 20 years of experience. Stacy created and now serves as project manager and lead writer for nutrition services content on the Dana Farber website and the affiliated, nationally recognized nutrition app. Stacy is regularly featured on TV, radio, print and social media on behalf of Dana Farber and other organizations. Together with her husband, Dr. Russell Kennedy PsyD, they have a private practice, Wellness Guides, LLC. Stacy is an adjunct professor in Wellness and Health Coaching at William James College, currently teaching a graduate course in Health Coaching. Stacy is featured in the award winning documentary films, “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead” and “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead 2,” and serves on the Reboot with Joe Medical Advisory Board. Stacy lives in Wellesley with her husband, two sons and three dogs. She enjoys cooking, yoga, hiking and spending time with friends and family. Stacy is also one of the nutritionists who runs our Guided Reboot programs.

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