Is Coffee Really That Bad? (Plus My Favorite Substitutes)

marilyn and coffee

Is coffee really that bad?

I get asked this question a lot.

Oftentimes it’s nervously asked by one of my new clients who’s concerned that I might “make them” give up their morning cup of coffee. Most of the time though they’re usually pleasantly surprised by my answer.

The truth is, I really enjoy a rich and creamy cup of coffee myself and I do drink it moderately from time-to-time, so it would be pretty hypocritical of me if I told you to ditch the coffee forever.

My relationship with coffee has been somewhat complicated over the years, kind of on-again-off-again, and there’s been many times when I’ve cut it out for weeks, and even months. Somehow though, it always manages to creep its way back into my life, and cup. I really do enjoy the taste!

Coffee is one of those “gray area” substances that is highly dependable on individual tolerance. I know if I drink too much it leaves me feeling anxious, jittery, and often with a stomach ache.

I find this is highly dependent though on my mental and emotional state at the time, meaning if I’m already feeling stressed, coffee only exacerbates those symptoms. When I drink a cup from a state of feeling relaxed and calm, such as when I’m leisurely reading the paper on a Saturday morning, it really doesn’t bother me too much.

In the context of an otherwise healthy diet and lifestyle I don’t think one cup per day is going to do too much harm (for most people). Meaning that if you’re doing everything else right, I think you can enjoy your cup of coffee.

I won’t pretend that I think coffee is healthier than it is though to make you (or myself) more comfortable about drinking it, regardless of some of the health benefits that may be touted for it.

It’s kind of like how I feel about red wine. I really enjoy a glass from time-to-time but I’m not going to fool myself into thinking I’m drinking it for the antioxidant compounds that supposedly make it healthy. I can get that from eating grapes, plus I’m pretty sure the alcohol negates any of those benefits! No, I drink it because it’s one of those pleasures that I really enjoy, and in the context of an otherwise healthy diet and lifestyle, I feel like I can.

So, if you’re doing most other things right I don’t think a cup of coffee per day is going to be harmful to most people. However I’ll be sharing my tips below to show you how you can upgrade your coffee consumption to lessen some of its negative effects, along with a few great alternatives that can help you transition away from it if you choose.

Now for the bad news…

As I mentioned earlier, coffee is highly dependent on individual tolerance and there are certain people who could benefit from eliminating it completely – at least for a short period.

Who should NOT drink coffee?

Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant and given the right conditions can easily throw the body and delicate endocrine system out of whack, contributing to a cascade of unpleasant symptoms.

People who suffer from depression, mood disorders, anxiety, insomnia, hormonal imbalance, inflammatory bowel disease, IBS (especially if stools tend to be loose), or GERD, may want to try cutting out coffee completely since the caffeine can exacerbate these symptoms. I usually suggest people cut it out for at least 4 weeks to see if they experience alleviation in symptoms. At this point if they do notice a marked improvement they may decide it’s worthwhile to leave it out completely or to enjoy it only on occasion.

Now if you decide that you can’t part with your morning cup of coffee and want to minimize some of its negative effects, there are a few things you can do to upgrade your coffee hygiene.

Tips for Upgrading Your Coffee Hygiene

1. Put a buffer on it. Coffee is dehydrating and has an acidifying effect on the body. Balance this out with a glass of water before and after. Coffee should never be the first liquid that passes your lips in the morning.

2. Keep it to one cup per day (preferably before noon). This way it will be less likely to interfere with your beauty sleep.

3. Buy organic and brew it yourself at home. Coffee beans are among the top most heavily sprayed crops in the world which means if you’re not buying organic you’re also exposing yourself to pesticides in each and every cup you drink. Bonus: You’ll also save a ton of money if you skip the Starbucks every day!

4. Skip the sugar and artificial sweeteners. A little pure, preferably organic, cream or your favorite dairy alternative, such as coconut milk, is all you need. If you must use sugar try to go for one of the healthier varieties such as coconut sugar, raw honey, or stevia.

5. Avoid (or limit) it on days when you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or frazzled as caffeine will only exacerbate these symptoms.

6. Cut your consumption in half. This is easier than going cold turkey especially if you drink many cups per day. If you’re a 4-cup per day coffee drinker try to reduce it to 2 cups. If you’re a one-cup per day coffee drinker you might try reducing it to half a cup or to every other day, OR, maybe just the weekend!

What about Decaf?

If you want the taste of coffee without the jolt of caffeine decaf can be a good option. Just be aware that most decaf coffee contains trace amounts of caffeine which can still affect people who are very sensitive. Be sure to opt for a brand that uses a Swiss-water process to strip the caffeine, as many commercial brands use harsh chemicals that can remain in the coffee making it worse off than its caffeinated counterpart.

Now with all said and done I’d like to share with you some of my favorite coffee alternatives. These are great if you’re trying to transition away from coffee but still want a beverage that somewhat resembles that creamy, rich, coffee taste. Of course tea is always an option too (green, white, twig, rooibos and herbal), but if you’re a coffee lover like me, you know that sometimes a cup of tea just doesn’t cut it.

All of these substitutes can be enjoyed in the same way you would drink your coffee – straight-up, with a splash of cream or nut milk, as a latte, or even as an iced or blended coffee in the warmer months.

Natural Coffee Substitutes

1. Chaga

A medicinal mushroom known for its super high antioxidant content, as well as its immune-modulating and anti-inflammatory properties, chaga is pretty magic if you ask me. It also just happens to somewhat resemble the taste of coffee in the opinion of many, including my own.

It’s available in a few different forms but what I’m referring to here are the dried mushroom pieces that you can brew as a tea.


Bring water to a boil, turn down the heat, then add dried chaga (1-2 tsp per serving). The longer you simmer it, the stronger its flavour, and the more it resembles coffee.

You can simmer if for as little as 10 minutes if you’re in a hurry, but you can also simmer it for much longer (up to 5 hours) if you have the time. I’ve never simmered it longer than an hour personally. I’ve also heard of people brewing it in their slow-cooker for much longer and I think that sounds like a fantastic idea and will likely try that out myself soon. Will keep you posted!

Strain and serve. Reserve the strained pieces and store them in a glass jar in the fridge. They can be re-brewed up to 4-5 times.

I like mine with a splash of pure cream, or sometimes I’ll blend it into a latte with coconut milk or almond milk, or use it as a base for a hot chocolate.

I usually make a big batch and store extra in the fridge in a mason jar for easy reheating on the stove top.

2. Dandy Blend

This instant herbal beverage contains a blend of extracts of roasted barley, rye, chicory root, dandelion root and sugar beet. It has a rich, smooth full-bodied coffee flavour minus the caffeine. It’s also extremely versatile so you can pretty much replicate any coffee drink. My preference is straight up with a bit of pure cream or nut milk.


Add 1 tbsp of Dandy Blend to one cup of hot water and stir.

I’ve also heard through a colleague that chaga and Dandy Blend taste great combined, but I’ve yet to test this theory for myself. It sounds like it would be delicious though!

Other coffee substitutes that I’ve experienced with and enjoyed are Teecino, Cafe-Lib, and Krakus.

Are you a coffee lover? Have you recently cut back or eliminated it from your life? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below and if you have any favorite coffee alternatives please share!

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5 thoughts on “Is Coffee Really That Bad? (Plus My Favorite Substitutes)

  1. very cool about the substitutes! I have the same kind of relationship with coffee! I used to use it to boost my energy, but since stopping it, I have a real love for my cup of coffee. I add almond milk (unsweetened) and sip away after a huge class of lemon water, the taste is so good!

    Also, when I eliminated coffee I have so withdrawal symptoms and felt great, adding it back in, felt the same, pretty awesome!

    • That’s great! I think if you’re going to enjoy your daily cup following it up with something hydrating, as well as before, is key:)

  2. It’s good to hear that chaga actually resembles coffee cause a lot of alternatives just don’t cut it. I’m a little apprehensive that it’s a mushroom though cause I hate them! Haha. I try to like em but just don’t. So does it taste like a mushroom though in this form?

  3. Pingback: Sometimes Being Extreme is Necessary | Elaine Brisebois | Nutritionist

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