The Caffeine Dilemma

This is not news to anyone, but the American food industry has a generally brazen disregard for people’s health, from over processed grains to trans-fats to things we don’t even know about yet. Unfortunately these ingredients and techniques are so commercially advantageous that it can be near-impossible to avoid them when having a meal outside of your house. An ingredient that falls into this category but doesn’t get as much chicken-little-press is caffeine.

Now caffeine is probably not as unhealthful as other things, but I’ve been trying to eliminate it from my diet except on an as-needed basis. Some people I know take pride in their level of caffeine consumption, but no doctor has ever told me I wasn’t getting enough of it, so I figure less is better.

Most non-fancy restaurants will have most of the following: coffee, decaf, hot/iced tea, tap water, bottled water, coke, Diet Coke, sprite, root beer, and a few other sodas, and often a juice or two. I eliminated sugary sodas a while back from my standard diet, so coke, sprite, root beer, and the other sodas are out, as are any available juices since they are mostly sugar too. Coffee is usually bad, decaf is usually horrible, and tap water is rarely any good, so they are out too. I’m left with hot/iced tea, bottled water, and Diet Coke. Bottled water usually costs a lot and you don’t get refills, and even before I was exercising regularly I consumed more beverage than your average person. I really can’t justify spending $5+ per meal for water. I’m not a big fan of hot tea without cream and sugar, and the quality of (caffeinated) iced tea is highly variable, so I typically order Diet Coke. Which, of course, has caffeine. It also has artificial sweeteners which I’d like to cut out at some point, but one thing at a time. There is of course, beer, wine, and liquor, but I drink far less than I go out (once or twice a month versus several times per week, respectively) and don’t see increasing intake as a healthy alternative.

So the logical plan would seem to be to order tap water, and if its not good, order a Diet Coke as a fall back. The problem is that if you’ve eliminated caffeine from your regular diet your tolerance for it drops quickly. So I’d be taking in a pretty powerful stimulant at 7 or 8pm and I’d likely be hopped up well into the night.

One thing I have stopped doing is buying soda for the house. I’ve been sticking to things like Gatorade, Fruit2O, Vitamin Water or Propel, and I feel better, despite most of them having sugar (though it’s about half of non-diet soda). I drink a half gallon of spring water a day, but I find that those sports drinks help with the sweet tooth.

If you think I’m working towards some conclusion here, I’m sorry to disappoint, as I’m still not sure what to do about the restaurant thing. If anyone has any ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Update: Credit to Dana for suggesting club soda w/lemon as a caffeine-free, free-refill alternative when the restaurant also has a bar. It might take a bit of getting used to, but I’ll give it a shot.

  • When Chloe was in the hospital the doctors started spouting some medical jargon at me about what they were going to do about her Apnea and low heart rate. When I asked him to explain in layman’s terms he said, “Well, we give her a dose of caffeine.” I said, “That’s it?” And he said, “Yup. It speeds up her heart rate and respiration so she’s less likely to forget to breathe and set off the alarms.”

    And that’s the only time I think you’ll hear a doctor prescribe you caffeine, which by the way, costs like $50 a dose when in a hospital.

  • phil

    What about something like cranberry juice?

    There are also teas that you may not know like Rooibos or white tea that have very low caffeine and aren’t bitter at all (like black tea would be).