Coffee has a lot going for it as a healthy drink: It’s high in antioxidants, gives you an energy jolt, and makes a super summer refresher when it’s cold brewed. Plus, regular coffee drinkers appear to have a lower risk of diabetes and some cancers.
But coffee’s downsides send many people searching for a coffee alternative. Coffee can cause an upset stomach, interrupted sleep, and overwhelming anxiousness—not to mention load you up with excess calories if you sip a sugary coffee drink.
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If you’re looking for a coffee alternative that offers all the good stuff java delivers without the negative effects, check out our expert-backed list of healthy sips below.
Matcha green tea
A cup of matcha tea is regular green tea—but with the actual tea leaves (which are usually discarded) ground down into a powder and added to the hot water. The presence of the leaves boosts the caffeine level to about the same as a cup of coffee. “But instead of a jittery stimulation with a sudden subsequent energy slump when the caffeine wears off, matcha provides a more calming sense thanks to the amino acid L-theanine,” Ilana Muhlstein, RD, tells Health. Additionally, the powder is high in antioxidants, especially one subtype called polyphenols.
“Wheatgrass is a concentrated source of antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E, as well as iron, calcium, magnesium, and amino acids,” nutritionist and author Maggie Moon tells Health. In place of caffeine, these natural ingredients can give you a similar surge in energy. “Moreover, preliminary studies suggest that wheatgrass may also have a role in providing benefits for rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, diabetes, obesity, and oxidative stress” Appetite for Health co-founder Julie Upton, RD, explains to Health.
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Coffee can help you focus, which is exactly what the ingredients in ginseng tea appear to do as well. “There is emerging evidence that panax ginseng [one type of the ginseng plant], though not in tea form, can improve mental performance in abstract thinking, reaction times, and mental math,” says Moon. “It may also reduce the risk of getting a cold or flu. Coffee lovers may be attracted to its naturally bitter flavor.”
The rich red color of the pomegranate fruit is a tip-off that it is packed with antioxidants, which can help power your energy level. “Pomegranate juice is known for its antioxidant potency, and its polyphenols are being studied for muscle strength recovery, cognition, and more,” says Moon. She suggests adding it to sparkling water for an afternoon fuel source.
Yerba mate tea
The popular South American tea beverage is made from the native mate plant. “Like coffee, yerba mate contains caffeine, and there is some evidence that [it] may help lower LDL cholesterol, control blood sugar for people with diabetes, and help with weight loss,” Appetite for Health co-founder Katherine Booking, RD, tells Health.
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There’s no better way to fight energy-zapping dehydration than with a cool glass of agua. (And with summer right around the corner, dehydration season is upon us.) “If you’re dehydrated, water can boost cognitive and gastrointestinal function along with physical performance,” Booking says. “So before going for coffee, drink a few glasses of water—this may help you feel more energized.”
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