Sunday, September 13, 2009

Kicking the Caffeine Crutch

While I was going to jump right in to recipes for my second post, I got a request from Jacob to discuss the various strategies for curbing the addiction to soda (I grew up saying "pop" in Ohio, but years of travel have finally swayed me. I apologize for letting down the team) and coffee.

For many, caffeinated beverages are the biggest obstacles to adopting a healthy lifestyle. Soda is not only refreshing (let's face it: carbonation is fun!) , but it's cheep and it is found absolutely everywhere. And coffee, whether you are of the Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts persuasion, is equally ubiquitous in our modern world.

In the case of soda, a trip to your nearest health food store will unearth a wide range of fruit-based bubblies at a wide range of prices. Read the labels closely, however: just because a product has a drab label and is sold at the health food store, does not mean it doesn't contain only 2
5% juice and the other 75% sugar. The gold standard are the spritzers made by R.W. Knudsen, which I grew up drinking as a kid. They can be a bit pricey, but they contain only real fruit juice and sparkling water and are equivalent to one servin
g of fruit. And without the high fructose corn syrup, I actually feel more refreshed and satisfied after drinking a can of Black Cherry Spritzer than I ever could drinking Cherry Coke.

And that's all well and good when grocery shopping, you may say, but what happens when we're on our lunch break, or on the run and have no time to plan ahead? I'm glad you asked! If you live anywhere in America, chances are you never more than 8 minutes from a Starbucks at any given time (either a stand-alone or in a Barnes and Noble). For over 6 years, Starbucks has been selling the Izze
brand of sodas. Like Knudsen Izze sodas, are made up of 100% fruit and come in fun flavors like pomegranate, grapefruit, blackberry and lime. And with prices between $1.30 to $1.70, they aren't much more expensive than Pepsi and a lot cheeper than any of the fancy coffee drinks you normally buy there.

Another fizzy option when eating out: italian sodas. Italian soda is essentially sparkling water with a shot of flavored syrup. While many of the syrups contain a higher level of sugar than is ideal, it can be a sensible option for those wishing to avoid the chemicals and high fructose corn syrup inherent in coke products. You might even try and ask if the restaurant or cafe or flight attendant can create for you a healthier version using soda water and fruit juice. The worst they can say is no!

Now , on to coffee. Your best strategy for curbing your coffee craving will depend on what needs coffee satisfies for you. If you drink coffee mainly because you like the taste, most well-stocked health food stores provide a range of caffeine-free alternatives, the best of which I've found is Teeccino. And for sweeteners, there are several sugar-free options that won't give you cancer. While probably the best option nowadays is stevia (most conventional grocery stores now carry it labeled Truvia, which now comes in packets that you
can keep in your purse, desk, or car), last year Jon Deliz turned me on to the virtues of sweetening coffee with liquid sweeteners such as maple syrup and agave. I've even seen single-serve honey packets on several occasions. For creamer, silk currently makes a line of excellent dairy-free creamers, but you can also experiment with rice milk, almond milk, or even coconut milk.

But if the taste of coffee is not something you are married to, and a caffeine fix is your main objective, several people have reported successfully weaning themselves off coffee by substituting it with hot green tea. While still containing enough caffeine to give you a kick, it's far less concentrated than coffee, cheeper (especially if you drink loose-leaf), and requires a lot less added ingredients to take off the bitterness. Keeping a few tea bags in your car, purse, or pocket while on the run is also a very effective way to avoid the temptation toward toxic beverages in general. Many cafes have understandably begun charging for just the styrofoam cup, so I try to carry with me either a ceramic mug or thermos with me whether I am at work or on the run. Most establishments will grudgingly fill your vessel up with hot water if you ask, and you can feel good that by abstaining from the styrofoam to go cup you are saving the environment as well as your shekels.

Carrying tea bags on your person is also a terrific defense against the situation where even the most well-intentioned traveler can find themselves the most vulnerable: airline travel. Now that most major airlines have eliminated the complimentary beverage service, it is tempting to choose soda or coffee because it's at least $1 cheeper than the apple juice (and if there is tea, it's usually the most basic, bland, bitter plain lipton crap). Carrying a handful of tea bags, whether green tea, rooibos, darjeeling, or chamomile, is a relatively low-cost way to take back control of your travel experience. And if you're really new to the hot tea experience, the overwhelming array of options can be a bit dizzying. While I have become accustomed to The Republic of Tea, Yogi, and Celestial Seasonings (I'm a sucker for the artwork on the boxes), much more affordable options can be found at Trader Joe's and even Lipton has greatly diversified its selection in recent years. And at many Asian food stores you can buy large quantities of both bagged and loose green, jasmine, and black teas for a song.

So that's what I've been able to glean thus far Anyone else have any great caffeine alternatives or strategies they have found effective?


  1. I drink FRS a lot.

    --Annie B Foley

  2. Ooo I've never heard of that one. Thanks for the tip!

  3. Lisa, this is awesome. I give you so much credit for growing up vegetarian in Boardman. It's hard to find food when I come home now, so I can't imagine how hard it had to be twenty years ago. I've been vegetarian for six years and am progressively trying to go vegan (Greek food, Indian food, and kugel being the main hurdles...)

    Anyway, I've pretty much stopped drinking caffiene last year. This might sound gross, but sometimes I just drink blackstrap molasses in hot water. I love molasses and need the iron (and warmth) so works for me :) Take care and thanks for all this info!