I was a coffee fanatic for most of my adult life. But four years ago, after a concussion from a car accident, my doctor suggested taking a break from caffeine to see if it would help reduce my symptoms of headaches and brain fog.
Although studies are limited, some researchers have found that too much caffeine can irritate your already-sensitive brain and slow recovery, especially during the first few weeks after an injury.
As a dietitian of 20 years, that was enough incentive for me to give up caffeine and find alternatives for energy and focus.
Keep in mind, though, that everyone tolerates caffeine differently. For healthy adults, the FDA says that 400 milligrams (about four or five cups) of coffee a day isn't generally associated with dangerous effects. But if you start to experience signs of excessive intake — difficulty sleeping, a rapid heartbeat, jitteriness — you may want to cut back.
Giving up coffee doesn't mean skipping the ritual of a warm morning beverage.
Instead of a caffeinated drink, I enjoy a blend of warm milk, ginger, maple syrup and turmeric powder. The milk helps me start my day with natural protein, while the maple syrup offers a bit of sweetness and some unique anti-inflammatory properties.
Curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. Studies have found that it can also help buffer high cortisol levels (a.k.a. your primary stress hormone) and support a reduction in mental fatigue.
Black pepper can help the body absorb turmeric better, so I add a pinch of that to my drink, too.
It sounds basic, but staying hydrated with water helps maintain energy levels by keeping our muscles energized.
The amount of plain water adults should drink daily varies depending on activity level, environment and other factors. But I try to drink eight glasses (about 64 ounces, or 1893 milliliters) every day.
Getting adequate sleep helps you stay alert during the day, but we all know it can be hard to get quality rest.
Eating kiwifruit may help. These nutrient-dense berries are rich in serotonin, a hormone that has been linked to sleep regulation. A 2011 experiment found that eating two kiwifruits one hour before bedtime every night for a month led to an increase in total sleep time and sleep efficiency.
I eat kiwifruit as a bedtime snack. When I sleep well, my caffeine cravings decrease the next day — a double win!
Iron helps transport oxygen throughout the body. If you're iron-deficient and oxygen isn't getting to where it needs to be, you can feel very tired.
Lean beef is one of the best sources of iron. I make a point to include it in my diet twice a week to ensure my body gets the iron it needs. I stick with 4-ounce servings of lean cuts like flank steak and eye of round roast.
A 3-ounce serving of 95% lean ground beef contains two milligrams of iron, which is 11% of the recommended daily iron intake for women, and 25% for men, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements.
If you don't eat meat, you can get your iron through other foods like spinach, legumes, quinoa, broccoli and tofu.
Carbohydrates are the body's main source of energy. Starch is a complex carb made from chains of small sugars. We get energy when these chains are broken down during digestion.
Plant-based foods like pasta are great sources of starch, and they contain various B vitamins that support energy levels.
Eating too much pasta at once, however, can make some people feel sleepy. To eyeball the appropriate serving size, it helps to remember that one serving of cooked pasta is about the size of a baseball.
For dinner, I'll sometimes pair gluten-free pasta with some extra virgin olive oil, sautéed vegetables, lean protein like chicken or shrimp, and a dash of parmesan.
Lauren Manaker is an award-winning dietitian and author of "The First-Time Mom's Pregnancy Cookbook: A Nutrition Guide, Recipes, and Meal Plans for a Healthy Pregnancy." She's held leadership roles at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and has written for publications, including HealthDay and Livestrong. Follow her on Instagram.
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