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The Caffeine Conundrum!

To drink or not to drink, healthy or bad for you??? Caffeine is controversial at best and demonised at worst, yet this naturally occurring chemical is found in the leaves, fruits and beans of many plants, including the leaves of the tea plant. It is a naturally occurring stimulant, consumed throughout the world in different forms, to fight fatigue and boost alertness. Its mode of function is to block adenosine, a neurotransmitter which builds up during the day making you feel tired. This is great, until it starts to affect the central nervous system in a negative way causing poor sleep or insomnia, anxiety and even irregular heartbeat. Individual tolerance varies greatly!

Coffee beans and tea plants contain some of the highest sources of polyphenols - potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. Drinking high quality black coffee, black tea or green tea can indeed benefit the body by exposure to these wonderful antioxidants. In fact studies have shown that in the Western diet people get more antioxidants from coffee than fruit and vegetables put together. Not a great endorsement for the Western diet, however it does highlight the benefits of tea and coffee.

The safe limit for caffeine is considered to be around 400mg per day for an adult, and to prevent negative side effects it is recommended that you space out your caffeine throughout the day. To put this into perspective here is the caffeine content in a small cup (250ml) of some popular drinks:

Green Tea: 30-50mg, Instant Coffee: 27-173mg, Plain Brewed Coffee: 102-200mg, Espresso: 240-720mg, Black Tea: 25-110mg, Energy Drinks: 72-80mg

As you can see Green Tea contains less caffeine than the other beverages and from a health perspective it also contains the amino acid L-Theanine. This has been shown to work synergistically with caffeine to promote focus and alertness, as opposed to the 'buzz' you get with other caffeinated drinks.

The bottom line is, gauge your own tolerance level and if you only drink coffee consider swapping it out for some green tea for the health benefits. Caffeine is a diuretic which can lead to dehydration so please also remember to drink plenty of water throughout the day also. If you don't tolerate caffeine well but love coffee, opt for decaffeinated coffee that has gone through the Swiss Water Filtration process to avoid the solvents and toxins used in most commercially available decaffeinated products. This is available in Waitrose or online, e.g. www.decadentdecaf.com or www.swisswater.com or www.grumpymule.co.uk