Can't slug through a day without a cup of coffee, and then another, and then one or two more? Need a Coke or Pepsi pick-me-up to finish that task?
Most experts say a moderate amount of caffeine is OK for healthy adults. Ideally, that's 200 milligrams or less a day, or about two cups of strong coffee, says registered dietitian Melinda Johnson, a lecturer in the nutrition program at Arizona State University. But some people are more sensitive to caffeine. "If you experience nervousness, anxiety, shakiness, or have problems sleeping," it might be time to cut back, Johnson says. Research suggests that caffeine can spike heart rate and blood pressure, while increasing feelings of stress, anxiety, and road rage. It can also leave you feeling wired for up to 16 hours after your last cup, according to the National Institutes of Health. Kicking the habit isn't as daunting as it sounds, either. Back away from the coffee pot and try these seven easy tricks for cutting back on caffeine.
1. Analyze your caffeine intake. You may be overlooking some sources of caffeine. While many are obvious—coffee and soda, for example—others are less clear. "Energy drinks can contain large amounts of caffeine, and they're not required to tell you how much caffeine is in a serving," Johnson says. Chocolate and gum are other sources, as are common over-the-counter medications like Excedrin. "The best way to cut down is to first take stock," Johnson says. "Where is your caffeine coming from, how much do you consume, and what times of day do you consume it?" Once you're aware, you'll be better positioned to scale back. "Sometimes caffeine is disguised, and you have to be more of a sleuth reading ingredients," says Andrea Giancoli, a registered dietician and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
2. Cut back gradually. Caffeine withdrawal is real and can cause symptoms like a pounding headache, fatigue, and an inability to concentrate. That's why you shouldn't abruptly purge caffeine from your daily routine. Try mixing caffeinated coffee with decaf, or progressively adding more water to your coffee maker each morning. "You get more caffeine the stronger it's brewed, so brew your coffee weaker," Giancoli says. "You're still getting that hot beverage." And if you usually have, say, two cups when you wake up or two cans of soda a day, work your way down, allowing yourself to adjust to your new intake.
3. Caffeinate wisely. There's an app for that: Researchers at Penn State University developed Caffeine Zone, which helps track when caffeine will provide a boost to productivity, and when it will lead to nothing but a sleepless night. It's available for download on iTunes. (There's a light version for free, and one that costs $0.99.) You'll input how much caffeine you have and at what time, along with how fast you consume it, your height, and your weight. The app, based on peer-reviewed coffee studies, provides personalized analysis of what kind of effects you can expect, as well as hints on how to modify caffeine habits.
4. Go for an espresso shot. These contain only about half the amount of caffeine as a cup of regular coffee. It will help you satisfy your craving, without overdoing it. And rather than grabbing a mocha Frappuccino at the coffee shop, indulge with a sugar-free hot chocolate, which has less caffeine.
5. Try coffee-like alternatives. Caffeine-free herbal tea is a smart bet. Switch things up with tasty flavors, like cinnamon, black cherry berry, pomegranate, or peach blossom. Another option: Dandelion root coffee, which contains no caffeine and is made of dried, chopped, and roasted dandelion roots. These beverages all have the richness of coffee, without the caffeine. And if you don't want to go cold turkey? "Switch to green tea, which only has about 40 milligrams of caffeine per cup, compared to 100 to 200 mg per cup of coffee," says registered dietitian Karen Ansel, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and co-author of The Calendar Diet: A Month by Month Guide to Losing Weight While Living Your Life. "Black tea is also a gentler option, with about 60 mg per cup."