Sipping steaming cups of coffee, hot chocolate and tea is a favorite way to warm up in winter. But did you know many of the options available come with numerous wellness benefits for people and the planet?
Wake up to a better world
Coffee is best known for its ability to boost energy and mental acuity. Recent studies have shown it's the largest source of antioxidants in the American diet, and other researchers have linked moderate consumption with the prevention of skin cancer, colon cancer, Alzheimer's disease and dementia.
To maximize antioxidants, says Jared Rennie, founder and co-owner of Noble Coffee Roasting, drink lighter-roast, whole-bean coffee that's been roasted in the past two weeks. If you prefer decaffeinated, choose "water process," a nonchemical method that retains antioxidants.
Because caffeine is a stimulant, curtail consumption at 400 to 500 milligrams daily and savor quality over quantity, advises Rennie, noting that per ounce, espresso delivers 30 milligrams of caffeine while drip coffee packs 20 milligrams.
Steeped in goodness
Green tea is known for antioxidants.
Stefan Schachter, founder and president of EcoTeas, says yerba mate, rooibos and tulsi basil offer the same benefits and more. Yerba mate provides B vitamins, minerals and amino acids while rooibos and tulsi are adaptogens, meaning they help the body handle stress and restore balance. Schachter reminds tea lovers to enjoy caffeinated brews in moderation and drink extra fluids to stay hydrated because caffeine is a diuretic. He prefers loose leaves, which maximize flavor and allow drinkers to add favorite herbs and spices.
Herbal tea may be the best known health drink. Jon Carlson, clinical herbalist and director of Vitalist School of Herbology, suggests a blend of astragalus, ginger, lemon and honey.
"Astragalus is an immune stimulant, and ginger is a pleasant-tasting, warming, circulatory and digestive stimulant," he says.
He enjoys local herbs, such as tulsi basil and sweet root, which he describes as "a warming respiratory and digestive stimulant that encourages sweating to help get over a fever."
Carlson advises choosing herbs carefully. "Just because a particular article or person says an herb is good doesn't mean it's good all the time or for everybody," he states. He notes that echinacea can exacerbate allergies, inflammation or autoimmune disorders while elderberry isn't recommended during pregnancy and can cause nausea.
Hot time for chocolate
Cacao is another antioxidant powerhouse, especially darker chocolate and nonalkalized cocoa powder, and contains mood-enhancing theobromine.
"It's also said that endorphins are released when chocolate is consumed, which helps us think positively and feel good," says Marne Reinhardt, product developer and chocolatier at Harry & David. "With a cup of hot chocolate, you not only benefit your body with calcium, protein and antioxidants, but you pamper your whole being by inviting a natural inclination to slow down, smile and savor the moment," she says.
Theobromine is a stimulant, so moderation is advised. Don't go overboard with sweeteners and choose nonfat or low-fat milk or dairy substitutes. Start with high-quality cocoa and chocolate, and you'll be satisfied with fewer additions. Reinhardt suggests a 3-to-2-to-1 ratio of sugar, unsweetened cocoa powder and dark chocolate for an indulgent yet healthful treat. "Use chocolate with a higher cacao percentage, 72 percent or more, to reduce sugar and increase antioxidants," she says.
To optimize environmental goodness, choose locally processed and organic ingredients that are regionally grown when possible, such as herbs, tulsi and honey.
Rennie recently visited a coffee farmer who converted to organic methods that significantly increased foliage and wildlife.
"He was proud to point out all the birds, bugs and butterflies," he says.
Look for shade-grown, Rainforest Alliance- or Fair Trade-certified coffee, tea, cocoa and chocolate to promote farming practices that preserve habitat and reduce chemicals. EcoTeas even supports tree-planting projects in communities where it sources ingredients.
Purchase items in bulk or in reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging to save money and the planet. Bypass "silky" nylon tea bags, a plastic-based, nonbiodegradable material best left for hosiery. Brew beverages with a reusable filter or strainer, compost grounds, leaves and herbs and always enjoy in a reusable cup at home or on the go.
Melissa Schweisguth is a freelance writer and sustainable business and communications consultant. She enjoys hot cocoa daily, often with local honey or organic molasses.