Food can be so versatile: it can function as soulfood, brainfood or even superfood… Still want more? In week 3 during our #soulfoodmonth, we will present you miracle foods that help you stay awake, focused and keep a clear head. Surely, coffee is one of them, but there are plenty more, which are at least just as effective. Let’s explore!
— This month we’ll be diving deeper into the topic “soul food”, and more specifically examine the question of how certain foods and more conscious eating can impact on our well-being and performance. As always, we’ll also provide you with practical tips and useful background knowledge, without leading you by the nose. —
What keeps us awake?
It is amazing just how much the foods we eat can impact the way we feel, particularly when we know how to use them properly. Amongst them you can also find plenty of tasty things that stop you from feeling tired. Examples of these include:
Lemon, grapefruit, and co.
If you are desperate for some advice on how to make it out of bed in the morning in a good mood when your alarm clock goes off, try extremely sour fruits! It may sound crazy, but have you ever bitten into a lemon after getting up? Well, you certainly won’t be thinking about getting back into bed – citrus fruits have a very invigorating effect. They contain a lot of vitamin C, which activates our defenses and, at the same time, improves the way our bodies absorb iron. That is why having a glass of orange juice with your muesli is beneficial.
Cacao is packed with invigorating substances such as caffeine and theobromine. The darker the chocolate, the more invigorating substances it contains. Great, so chocolate for breakfast? Maybe best not – too much sugar and too few vitamins aren’t a good way to start a successful day. Raw cacao nibs in your muesli are a much better choice.
Honey is an abundant source of energy. Soaring blood sugar levels due to the sugar it contains make us feel really energetic. But keep in mind that the effect only lasts a short time. After that, your blood sugar levels will go down again. In theory, normal sugar has the same effect, but honey at least also provides minerals and vitamins.
Chili and pepper
It’s really not easy to feel tired when you’ve just bitten into a fiery, red hot chili pepper. The adrenaline the body releases has a naturally stimulating effect. Adding a pinch wherever possible will help to perk you up.
Last but not least! We simply cannot go without it: coffee! According to the European Food Safety Authority, it’s okay to have 4 cups a day. Or two cups if you are pregnant or nursing. For many of us, coffee really is a fixture in our lives – which is why, on average, we drink 164 litres a year. Coffee has made its way into so many parts of our everyday lives: we have it for simple enjoyment, as a ritual when we meet up with friends, when we go on a date, and of course to wake us up in the mornings: coffee provides the kick we need! There is little else we associate so much with driving away tiredness.
Alternatives to coffee?
Has the coffee machine at work ever broken down – even worse, on a Monday morning? Did you notice a difference? Did it negatively affect your team’s mood, concentration, or work ethics? Or did you actually notice a positive change? Lots of people end up sleeping better when they pass by a cup of coffee a day, and they are less anxious, or simply more relaxed. Also, there are countless stimulating alternatives worth mentioning that are also suitable for those among us who don’t get on with coffee. Allow us to introduce…
Black & Green Tea
Black tea is a well-known and socially acceptable alternative to coffee. Also the famous chai latte is simply a black tea with some fragrant spices like cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and milk added to it. Green tea can also effectively wake you up and, unlike black tea, it isn’t fermented. The caffeine here occurs bound to amino acids and therefore has a slower but longer lasting effect.
Mate is a South American plant that, like coffee, contains caffeine. The great thing is that the effect of the caffeine takes hold more slowly, but lasts much longer than with normal coffee, though this is directly affected by the amount of time you leave it to brew. Also, mate is kinder on the body than coffee. Though mate is available as a tea in Europe, it’s mostly enjoyed as a refreshment as well as a popular party drink.
This is a real caffeine bomb, which is why guarana is popularly used in energy drinks. The guarana fruit has seeds containing 6 % caffeine – and its effect is even more intense than that of the caffeine in the coffee bean. In its pure form, it is, let’s say, an acquired taste. As such, the best thing to do is to have it diluted in fruit juice.
Matcha is a very fine powder made from concentrated tea leaves. It contains a particularly large amount of valuable ingredients thanks to the gentle way in which it is processed. Its bitter flavour is an acquired taste, but there is also ways to enjoy matcha in foods like cakes or salads, in case you’re not such a big fan of drinking matcha tea.
There is no doubt that energy drinks and soft drinks like coke or Pepsi wake you up – sometimes even more than you want them to. People who are sensitive or ill, children, teenagers and pregnant women should, however, not use these sorts of stimulants, particularly not energy shots. Sleep disorders and physical impairments such as tachycardia are not uncommon side effects. In addition to very high levels of caffeine, they contain something else: huge amounts of sugar. A can of energy drink contains 12 sugar cubes. That’s far too much for one drink. But the sugar is the reason for the sudden initial improvement in performance: sugar is absorbed straight away and gives our cells a huge energy boost. But you will see the same effect if you eat something containing sugar such as dried fruit or glucose.
The hype surrounding crazy ingredients like taurine, inositol, or glucuronolactone is basically just a lot of hot air, since a performance-enhancing effect has not yet been proven. There is, however, uncertainty as to possible undesirable side effects such as an interaction of caffeine with taurine. But the dangerous thing about energy drinks is still the high caffeine content. A can contains approx. 80 mg of caffeine – while a cup of coffee contains approx. 100 mg – but if we consume several sweet and tasty energy drinks or energy shots after another, the caffeine really adds up. You will notice a faster but irregular heartbeat, you may break out in a sweat, and may of course struggle to relax or sleep. By far the worst combination is energy drinks and alcohol as the caffeine will cover the effect of the alcohol. This can end dangerously as we feel more sober than we actually are, which makes us drink even more than we should.
These days there are several energy drink producers that use way less sugar and rely on natural and nutritious ingredients such as guarana. They are available as a ready-to-drink mix or as a powder to mix yourself and provide an energy boost that lasts long and consistently without leaving you with that shaky feeling you know from traditional energy shots or from drinking too much coffee.
As always, you will need to see for yourself which pick-me-ups work best for you without being too taxing on your body. Here in our team, we are big coffee lovers, but sometimes it’s fun to try out something new. We hope to have made you curious about some alternatives and that you enjoy trying them out!