Many of us rely on a quick pick-me-up from caffeine and sugar just to get through the day. Our bodies become so reliant on these little boosts that we can’t imagine going a morning without a cup of coffee or an afternoon without a chocolate bar. The trouble is caffeine and sugar don’t provide sustainable energy, only a superficial high for a short period, before we ultimately slump and find ourselves in search of the next quick-fix. It becomes a vicious circle. We get to the stage where we crave coffee and sweets should we deprive ourselves of them. We are addicted.
It’s true, coffee drinkers will feel moderately more alive and alert once they’ve had their morning fix. However, caffeine is much like nicotine in one sense; people who are addicted to it are only ever striving to feel the way that non-addicts do all the time. In other words, coffee is only effective at relieving withdrawal symptoms; it doesn’t really give you energy. In actual fact, consuming more and more caffeine actually robs you of energy and keeps you in the cycle of coffee drinking. Dr Peter Rogers, a psychologist at Bristol University, carried out thorough research in this area and discovered that coffee drinkers never actually feel better than non coffee drinkers. They only ever feel better than they did before they had a cup of coffee.
Why you should cut out Coffee
Caffeine blocks the receptors for adenosine, a brain chemical whose job it is to stop the release of dopamine and adrenalin, the main motivating neurotransmitters. As adenosine activity decreases, energy, motivation and alertness increase. Sounds good, right? Well, there’s a big catch.
Caffeine is highly addictive,. The more your body takes in, the less sensitive it becomes to the positive effects of its own stimulants, dopamine and adrenalin. So the more often you drink coffee, the more often you’ll need it just to feel normal, because you are making greater and greater demands on your body’s dopamine and adrenalin stores. The result is adrenal exhaustion; the body can no longer produce these vital chemicals for motivation and communication. Often apathy, depression and exhaustion ensue.
Caffeine also gradually destroys mental performance. Several studies have confirmed that caffeine worsens the ability to remember lists of words. The American Journal of Psychiatry conducted a study of students and found that more than one cup of coffee a day caused stress, anxiety, depression and ultimately lower academic performance.
Where else is caffeine found?
There is a lot of caffeine in coffee, but there are several other offenders. Tea, cola drinks and chocolate all have fairly high levels of caffeine. In fact, a strong cup of tea has just as much caffeine as a regular cup of coffee. Along with sugar, caffeine is also the main active ingredient in cola and other ‘energy’ beverages like Red Bull and Lucozade.
How do I know if I’m addicted?
Simple. If you must have caffeine (either from coffee, tea, cola or other energy drinks), you’re addicted. Negative effects are most prevalent in those people who consume more than 100mg of caffeine a day.
There are two other stimulants in coffee other than caffeine; theobromine and theophylline. This means that even de-caffeinated coffee is not really a sensible alternative. Try substituting herbal or fruit tea or dandelion coffee.
How to quit
The only real way to see the full effects coffee is having on you is to go cold-turkey. Cut it out completely for two weeks and take note of how you feel. You will probably have withdrawal symptoms for around three days; this is further proof of how addicted you have become. After that, the benefits of cutting out caffeine will be obvious. You’ll start to feel more consistently energised, especially first thing in the morning and you’ll be far better equipped to concentrate and get more done.
Eating sugar is like filling your Ford Fiesta with rocket fuel instead of petrol. There’s a sudden burst of energy followed shortly by a fast burn-out. The reason for this is that the more sugar and refined carbohydrates you consume, the more you are unable to maintain a consistent blood-sugar level. It is estimated that one in four people suffer from fatigue, irritability, poor concentration, constant thirst, black moods, mood-swings and forgetfulness due to lack of blood-sugar control.
Why you should cut out Sugar
Sugar eats away at the vitamins and minerals stored by your body, and in exchange provides none. For example, B vitamins are diminished by sugar and it is estimated that the majority of people already suffer from a B-vitamin deficiency. This is detrimental to energy levels as vitamin B is a vital source of mental and physical vitality. It is also true that chromium is essential for maintaining a stable blood-sugar balance, but around 98% of the chromium that is present in sugar cane disappears in the process of turning it into sugar.
It has been proven by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that the amount of sugar you consume can have an impact on your IQ level. The higher a person’s intake of refined carbs, such as sugar, sweets, white bread and sugary cereals, the less intelligent they are.
The more often your blood-sugar level is raised, the higher your production of insulin. The more insulin your body creates, the more you turn sugar into fat. This leads to weight gain, which in itself is a cause of low energy levels. You’ll also retain water more easily if you eat too much sugar, which can make you feel bloated and heavy.
As well as having detrimental effects on your energy, sugar can be extremely hazardous to your general well-being. Glucose (a type of sugar) is toxic and excessive levels can harm the kidneys, arteries, eyes, brain and nerves, and lead to diabetes. A diet high in sugar can lead to Alzheimer’s later in life.
How do I know if I’m addicted?
The ideal is that you cut sugar out of your diet entirely. However, many people are addicted. Do you find it impossible to go a day without a sugary treat? Do you get upset if there are no sweets at hand? Do you resort to comfort eating chocolate when you’re upset or down? Do you suffer from mood swings, angry outbursts, hyperactivity or irritability? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, chances are you are addicted to sugar.
The most harmful types of sugar are glucose, sucrose and dextrose; they are all fast-releasing sugars, so are the main culprits for giving a quick-fix burst of energy followed by a slump. Fresh fruit contains fructose, which provides many of the vitamins needed to turn glucose into energy. The best fruits are berries, apples and pears.
How to quit
Unlike caffeine, it is best to wean yourself off sugar gradually. Whenever you crave sugar, try and eat a piece of fruit rather than a chocolate bar. You should aim to be sugar-free after around a month; you’ll then experience a more even blood-sugar level, which will make you feel far more energised and alert.
Other articles that may be of interest: