We each want to feel sharp and think fast. But some argue that everyone is traveling in the fast lane — and as fuel, we’re turning to dietary stimulants.
“We find the roots of our own need for stimulants in the Industrial Revolution. It demanded brutally long hours from workers and complete exhaustion was an ever-present possibility,” says Patrick Holford and Dr Hyla Cass in Natural Highs: Increase your energy, sharpen your mind, improve your mood, relax and beat stress.
“Factory owners fuelled them with tea, coffee and tobacco, as a means of pushing them to work faster and more efficiently. Soon sugar joined the mix to sweeten the drinks, and finally, chocolate.”
Substances that offer a quick solution have created a ‘wellspring of exhaustion’, they argue.
Here are 4 food and drinks on trial.
Refined sugar is rapidly absorbed, broken down into glucose and directed to the brain where it triggers feelings of ‘comfort’ and ‘energy’.
“The body tries to get it out of the blood as quickly as possible, but this can then cause a ‘rebound’ low blood sugar [situation]… Some people feel stimulated immediately after taking it, then become cranky and finally go into a low blood sugar slump,” say Holford and Cass.
Stick to low-GI foods where possible — these release sugar into the bloodstream gradually.
Coffee increases our mental alertness by switching off a receptor in your brain for the neuro-chemical adenosine. “With less adenosine activity you increase dopamine and adrenalin,” say the authors.
For some, this enhances concentration and energy, for others, caffeine makes them feel jittery and uncomfortable.
The link with caffeine and stress is that by over-stimulating your central nervous system, the ingredient can leave you feeling irritable and it can disrupt your sleep.
Holford and Cass report that psychological studies have found high consumers of coffee have higher levels of stress-related medical problems.
If you love coffee, just drink it in moderation.
Not all teas are created equal — green tea, for example, is considered a ‘super food’ by some — but the black varieties share a few traits in common with coffee.
“Tea’s stimulating effects come from caffeine, theobromine and theophylline, the same compounds as in coffee,” say Holford and Cass. “A strong cup of tea contains as much caffeine as a weak cup of coffee. And tannin content [in tea] can interfere with absorption of minerals.”
Again, be aware that too much tea may have effects that impact your mood and health.
As well as the caffeine content in cola, it also contains artificial sugars and sweeteners. In fact, “diet drinks contain the artificial sweetener aspartame which can be toxically over-stimulating to the brain,” say the authors.
What goes up must come down, so instead of battling stress, too much cola can leave you feeling depleted, and less able to cope with stress in the first place.
References available upon request