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Why is coffee avoided while on the Autoimmune Protocol?
One of the most commonly missed eliminations during the Autoimmune Protocol is, you guessed it… coffee! But why? Well, to start we avoid all seeds during the elimination diet as outlined by Sarah Ballantyne in The Paleo Approach. This is because seeds (along with nuts) are a common food sensitivity for some folks.
Fortunately, according to Sarah’s research, seeds are one of the categories of foods that are more likely to be tolerated as a reintroduction, so some of us may be able to get back on the coffee train after the elimination diet is over. But wait…
Is there another reason to avoid coffee?
Unfortunately, yes. Caffeine, which is contained in varying amounts in coffee, can be a problematic chemical for some people — especially when it causes a dependence and inches us towards adrenal fatigue. Although caffeine gives us energy or provides a “pick me up” when we need it, often it ends up causing more harm than good. Ask me how I know… my former career as a barista in Seattle might offer some clues ;).
Beyond the negative impact caffeine has on our adrenals, it also acts as an immune stimulant, having the potential to cause autoimmune flares in some folks. Because of this, I think it is wise to consider eliminating caffeine in addition to coffee, at least for a trial period, to see how your body fares without it (you can read more from me on this topic in Kicking the Coffee Habit).
Even though coffee is out, are other caffeinated beverages OK?
While the Autoimmune Protocol avoids seeds during the elimination phase, and thus coffee, there is no restriction on caffeine. Sarah does give a warning, however, that caffeine is an immune stimulant and can be an issue for some people. That means other caffeinated beverages, like tea, are allowed (with caution) during the elimination phase.
Why is it important to wean off of caffeine?
If you are going to ditch coffee, unless you are going to replace it with a caffeinated tea you are likely also going to be ditching caffeine entirely. It is important not to quit caffeine cold-turkey, and instead wean yourself off of it gradually. You can do this by gradually reducing the amount of coffee you consume, by mixing regular coffee with decaf coffee, or switching to another non-coffee but still caffeine-containing beverage, like tea and working your way to less and less caffeine. I recommend doing this over a period of a few weeks, even months, if you have a serious dependance.
If you are thinking about embarking on the Autoimmune Protocol, you will thank yourself later for taking this step to gradually work your way down before you start. Trust me, caffeine withdrawal is no joke, and I’ve personally spent weeks in bed trying to get it out of my system the “hard” way.
What should I drink in the morning besides coffee?
Here are my six favorite coffee alternatives that are compliant with the elimination phase of the Autoimmune Protocol (and beyond, if you are like me and decide to ditch coffee for good!):
- Chicory/Dandelion Blend — If you haven’t tried this yet, be prepared to be blown away – this is an extremely coffee-like alternative! The roasted chicory and dandelion have a similar bitterness and acidity to coffee, but they don’t have any caffeine. In fact, both of these roots contain properties that aid in liver detoxification, so including them in your routine can actually be a way to love your liver. Try this steeped in a French Press, tea ball, or prepared “bulletproof” style (my personal favorite!).
- Tea — It almost goes without saying, but swapping out coffee for tea is one of the easiest alternatives out there. If you are weaning off coffee and would still like some caffeine, try some black, oolong, or green tea (caution though, as green tea can stimulate the immune system and cause flares in some folks). Great herbal, caffeine-free alternatives include rooibos, chamomile, peppermint, and licorice.
- Bone Broth — For those who are not yet broth converts, skipping coffee to enjoy a cup of warm broth in the morning may seem odd, but it is by far the most nourishing way to start the day. Bone broth contains many nutrients that are healing to the gut, like collagen, gelatin, and minerals like calcium and magnesium. See my Pressure Cooker Bone Broth recipe to make yourself a batch!
- Lemon Ginger Infusion — Ginger is one of my favorite anti-inflammatory spices, and using the fresh root to make an infusion is a great way to start the day. I like to slice a 1” piece of root into thin medallions, and steep for a few minutes with hot water and a squeeze of lemon.
- Coconut Milk Chai/”Natte” — I reserve a beverage like this for a special occasion both because it requires a little more effort and planning to execute, and can be sweet (think a weekend brunch). You will find my coconut milk chai recipe on p. 102 of The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook. Also try this Pumpkin Spice “Natte”.
- Probiotic Drinks — While these don’t satisfy the “warm” and “cozy” feeling that the morning coffee ritual usually fulfills, they can be a great option for the warmer months (or beyond, if you don’t mind cold beverages in the morning!). Make your own or purchase Kombucha, Water Kefir, or Kvass to get a daily dose of probiotics.
I hope this article has opened you up to the possibilities of what you can have to drink in the morning without (gasp!) coffee! I think you will find these options not only tasty, but many of them nourishing and medicinal.
Are you coffee and/or caffeine-free? Have you tried any of the coffee alternatives on my list, and which one is your favorite?