For many of us, sipping a cup (or two) of Joe in the morning is necessary before we can take on the day. Thanks for the buzz, caffeine!
How exactly does our daily java get us going, though? “Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant,” says Jennifer Stagg, naturopathic physician and author of Unzip Your Genes: 5 Choices to Reveal a Radically Radiant You. It’s a very mild diuretic (meaning it’ll cause you to pee more frequently than you normally do), and it also increases your heart rate and blood pressure for a time, she says.
And, yes, it may also help you focus and charge through whatever’s on your plate. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that caffeine helped athletes concentrate and perform better when they hadn’t slept well.
Coffee isn’t the only natural source of caffeine, though. “Caffeine is found in a variety of plant species, including tea leaves,” explains Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., author of Read It Before You Eat It. Your average mug of brew contains about 100 to 120 milligrams of caffeine—and Stagg recommends capping your daily intake at 400 milligrams. Too much of the stuff might mess with your ticker, potentially causing issues like heart palpitations, Stagg says.
Related: Let’s Clear The Air About Caffeine
If you’re not a huge fan of coffee but still crave that jolt, here are a few buzz-worthy alternatives.
Dark Chocolate (20 milligrams per one-ounce serving)
As if you needed another reason to snack on chocolate, right? Just go for the dark stuff, which contains more caffeine than milk varieties, because it contains fewer ingredients and more cocoa, says Stagg.
Plus, cocoa contains flavanol antioxidants, which help your body fight off free radicals and can support brain health and cognitive function, according to a study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. Bonus points!
Green Tea (30-45 milligrams per eight-ounce serving)
Chances are, you’ve already heard all about green tea’s awesome health benefits. One study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the polyphenols (a.k.a. compounds containing antioxidant properties) in this herbal tea might help protect against heart disease and some cancers.
Black Tea (40-60 milligrams per eight-ounce serving)
Like green tea, black tea contains antioxidant-rich polyphenols—but black tea contains more caffeine, says Stagg. The best thing about black tea? There are plenty of varieties (we’ll be enjoying a cup of Earl Grey, ourselves…).
Guarana Seeds (47 milligrams per gram)
You’ve probably seen guarana listed as an ingredient in energy drinks—and that’s because it’s one of the more powerful natural caffeine sources out there. The extract used for these drinks actually comes from an Amazonian fruit. Its seeds contain about four times the caffeine as coffee beans, according to a study published in PLOS One. Who knew!
Yerba Mate Tea (85 milligrams per eight-ounce serving)
Yerba mate, a tea that originally found popularity in South America, is now available at health food stores all over the place. This rather bitter tea also happens to pack more caffeine than you’ll find in other teas, says Stagg. Plus, a review published in Nutrients identified a number of health perks associated with yerba mate consumption, including healthy cholesterol and blood sugar support.
Keep this infographic handy for the next time you need a caffeine boost: