Caffeine in moderation can help with exhaustion

If decking the halls this past holiday season has caused you to hit the wall with exhaustion, then you may find yourself turning to caffeine for a boost. It’s fine to do so, says a Baylor College of Medicine expert, but be sure to make smart choices and be especially cautious when it comes to so-called energy drinks.

“Caffeine definitely has a valuable function,” said Roberta Anding, registered dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital.

“Its job is to be a stimulant, to make you more alert and focused. A lot of us could use a little bit of a pick-me-up.”

She suggests sticking to coffee or tea for your caffeine boost, as these are plant-based foods that offer a health benefit. For example, they contain polyphenol compounds that have been linked to reduced risk of diabetes and liver cancer.

“My preference would be unsweetened tea with lemon or honey as a natural sweetener. Turn to that for your energy drink and you’ll get the combination of good nutrition and the desired caffeine,” Anding said.

The key, as with all things diet-related, is moderation, Anding said. While one or two cups of coffee or tea are fine, avoid consuming too much as this can lead to heart palpitations, nausea and other ill-effects. Also, avoid high-calorie coffee and tea laden with full-fat milk, whip cream and syrups. Slim these down by requesting low-fat versions, she explained.

Be wary of energy drinks altogether, Anding said. These drinks contain caffeine at a level way beyond a cup of coffee or tea.

She offers some important reminders when it comes to energy drinks:

…The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children should never consume energy drinks.

…There’s a difference between a nutrition fact panel such as on a carton of milk and a supplement fact panel. Look for labels that say “supplement” and remember that supplements are not regulated by the FDA. “If it says supplement, I say stay away but if there is a nutritional panel, you can have more confidence about the quality and effect of the ingredients,” said Anding.

…Be mindful that energy drinks can result in interactions with certain medications, even if they are purchased in the food section of a grocery store or if they are marketed as “all natural.”

…Alcohol and energy drinks do not mix. This can be a very dangerous and potentially even deadly combination as the excessive caffeine may cause people to not feel the effects of the alcohol.

Maintaining a healthy overall diet and sticking to an exercise routine can also help keep your energy up, Anding said.

She also advises people to consider their food choices since both under and overeating can make you feel tired. Don’t skip meals in an attempt to limit calories – this increases the risk of overeating from hunger. In addition, make sure you have a source of fiber and protein at each meal to keep you satisfied between meals and to provide a consistent source of energy, she explained.

“Sugary treats are everywhere but many of these contain high glycemic index carbohydrates, which increase fatigue,” Anding said. “Good sustained energy snacks include a small handful of nuts, hummus and whole grain crackers or Greek yogurt with berries or crushed nuts.”

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