Is coffee a daily part of your routine? Couldn’t live without a cup (at least) in the morning? Or do you grab a chocolate bar or reach for raw cacao when you feel like you need an energy boost? Both of these also contain caffeine – as much as an espresso shot in a 50g bar!

Many people claim getting a caffeine fix helps them to feel more awake, alert and improves their mood. Consuming it triggers the release of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, the fight-or-flight mechanism, which actually skips rational thinking in favour of a faster response, meaning that caffeine allows your emotions to take charge and dictate behaviour – not always a good thing!

These stress hormones also lead to an increase in our blood sugar levels, which is often followed by a crash – leaving us feeling fatigued and irritable, and craving sugary foods or more caffeine. Over time caffeine causes our brains to slow down production of our own natural neurotransmitter reserves, meaning that you need increasing amounts of caffeine to help you reach the same effect and you have less and less natural energy.

Caffeine: The good, the bad and the ugly

Do you notice your heartbeat rises after having a large hit of caffeine? Did you know it can raise blood pressure and cause rapid, shallow breathing? It can also interfere with sleep patterns – caffeine has a six-hour half-life and takes a full 24 hours to work its way out of your system. Sleep is vital for our health and wellbeing – even more so for kids, so consider how much coffee or chocolate is being consumed throughout the day.

While falling asleep may be a test in itself as your brain is in a more alert state, with caffeine still in your system this reduces the deep sleep for your body needs to recuperate – REM (rapid eye movement), making you feel tired the next day. Of course, what do you reach for? COFFEE or chocolate/cacao. And that’s where the vicious cycle comes into play.

Breaking the cycle

The combination of caffeine and stresses of work and everyday life can feel like a constant wheel of adrenaline and tiredness. The solution? Just as with any stimulant, it can be very addictive and cutting down can cause withdrawal fatigue, headaches and difficulty concentrating – even flu-like symptoms. But gradually lowering your caffeine intake will make you feel better and have more energy in the long-run,

Drink wisely

Try drinking herbal teas instead of your usual cup of coffee. Switch fizzy drinks (particularly diet ones) for sparkling water with fruit juice, or infuse still water with fresh fruit and herbs for a delicious, refreshing twist. Smoothies are also great ways of squeezing in portions of fruit and vegetables, although limit to one per day.

Swap chocolate for carob

Chocolate not only contains refined sugar and caffeine but also theobromine – both stimulants that affect the mind and body due to their impact on the central nervous system and our brain chemistry. We all enjoy a sweet treat, however old we are, but even standard portions of raw, dark and milk chocolate can significantly affect mood and performance in adults and children. This is where our carob bars work a treat – they taste delicious but without the stimulants!

Dried Carob pods

Eat well

Make sure you and younger ones eat little and often to keep blood sugar levels steady, choosing plenty of wholegrains and foods high in B vitamins, folic acid, thiamine and niacin to help boost energy: Bananas, salmon, peanut butter, oats, almonds and pulses are great choices. Try and limit energy zappers – mainly processed and artificial foods and refined grains and sugar.

Whether you’re a caffeine fiend or worried that your children are consuming too much of the stuff, we hope this article has outlined how small changes can make a big difference to your health and energy levels. Now, where’s that Supertreats carob bar… ;)