Should I replace coffee with chicory?

On websites about healthy eating, I regularly see advice to replace coffee with chicory: they say that this will help to avoid caffeine addiction, and there are also a lot of vitamins and other useful substances in chicory. Therefore, I have a question: if chicory is so useful, why are drinks based on it not poured in all coffee shops yet?

Chicory is a good source of beneficial inulins – not to be confused with insulin. But it does not contain caffeine, so it does not invigorate, so a drink based on chicory is unlikely to interest coffee shop visitors.

At the same time, if you drink two to four cups of coffee per day, then this will not harm adult non-pregnant people. So there is no point in replacing coffee with chicory. But if a person regularly drinks significantly more coffee, they may develop a caffeine use disorder. In this case, chicory can help reduce coffee intake, restore caffeine sensitivity, and gradually return to recommended doses.

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We write with a passion for evidence-based healthcare. We refer to authoritative sources and go to doctors with a good reputation for comments. But remember: the responsibility for your health lies with you and your doctor. We don’t write prescriptions; we make recommendations. 

What is useful chicory?

What is chicory? Chicory is a perennial herbaceous plant, Cichorium intybus. The powders and extracts used as coffee substitutes are made from their roots. If you brew chicory in water, you get a dark bitter drink with a flavor reminiscent of nuts and burnt sugar.

Should I replace coffee with chicory?

How is chicory different from coffee. Chicory does not contain caffeine, so drinks based on it do not invigorate. They can be drunk at any time of the day, including at night.

Taste and smell of chicory coffee substitutes – Acta Alimentaria Food Science JournalPDF, 277 KB

Nutritional value of chicory. Chicory roots are not very nutritious. A teaspoon, 7 g of dry chicory, contains only 0.3 g of protein, 4.5 g of carbohydrates, and a tiny amount of fat. This is approximately 20.6 kcal. Of the other nutrients in chicory, vitamin B6, manganese, and potassium are the most – almost 1% of the daily value.

Useful properties and inulin in the composition of chicory. The most important substances found in chicory roots are called inulins. These are natural polymers based on fructose, in which the plant stores a reserve of sugar for a rainy day. Inulins account for 30 to 68% of the dry matter of chicory root.

Some chicory inulins are only 40% less sweet than sucrose. At the same time, they are not high in calories since people cannot digest or assimilate them. Therefore, chicory drinks are well suited for those who want to reduce their sugar intake. And people with type 2 diabetes can add chicory extract to pastries or regular coffee as a sweetener.

Should I replace coffee with chicory?

In addition, inulins are soluble fiber. When mixed with water, these polymers swell and turn into a gel that slows down the absorption of sugars from other foods. As a result, a person stays full longer and is less likely to overeat.

Inulins also serve food for beneficial bacteria living in the large intestine. These microorganisms strengthen the body’s immune defenses, support intestinal health, and facilitate bowel movements, reducing the risk of constipation.

The benefits of inulins become noticeable if a person receives from 5 to 8 g of these substances per day with food. About the same amount is contained in one cup of the drink if it was prepared with one or two teaspoons of chicory.

Which chicory is better: instant or freeze-dried. On sale in Russia, the easiest way to find two types of chicory:

  1. Soluble. It is a powder or liquid extract from roasted chicory roots.
  2. Sublimated. These are dried without exposure to high temperature and then ground chicory roots.

Some manufacturers emphasize that vitamin C and B vitamins are partially destroyed by heating. In their opinion, freeze-dried chicory is better, as it contains more vitamins. But this can hardly be considered a serious advantage because there are insufficient vitamins in chicory roots. Their loss will not affect their well-being and health.

If the product contains at least 30% inulins, instant and freeze-dried chicory will do. The most conscientious manufacturers indicate the content of inulin directly on the package. In addition, employees of Roskontrol analyzed some coffee substitutes and made a rating of chicory drinks. From it, you can find out how much inulin these products actually contain.

Does it make sense to replace coffee with chicory?

Drinks with chicory help reduce coffee consumption. But not everyone needs to do this.

In safe dosages, caffeine provides many health benefits. For example, it helps to wake up and focus.

And according to some reports, regular coffee consumption reduces the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, alcoholic liver cirrhosis, gout, and type 2 diabetes.

Should I replace coffee with chicory?

Caffeine is considered safe in the following dosages:

  1. For non-pregnant women and men over 18 without chronic disease, 400 mg of caffeine per day. This is two to four cups of coffee with a volume of 230 ml.
  2. For pregnant women – 200 mg of caffeine per day. It’s one or two cups.
  3. For children 13 to 17 years old, about 138 mg of caffeine per day. This is about half a normal cup.

Children under six years old should not consume caffeine at all, and from 6 to 12 years old, only 75 mg of caffeine is allowed.

Significantly reducing caffeine intake or completely abandoning it makes sense only to two categories of people:

  1. With cardiovascular disease. For many people in this group, caffeine has an unpredictable effect. For example, in some people with hypertension, just 250 mg of coffee can raise blood pressure by one and a half times, which is already quite dangerous. At the same time, data on coffee’s effect on people with hypertension are contradictory: some studies say that coffee can harm them, and some do not. However, most clinical guidelines still advise limiting coffee for hypertension to be safe.
  2. With a caffeine use disorder. Caffeine does not cause addiction, but if you exceed the recommended daily doses, it can be addictive. Previous doses of caffeine stop working, and a person feels sleepy and irritable without it.

Understanding whether it is possible to drink coffee and what quantities are necessary together with the attending physician in each case. Chicory drinks may be a good choice if it is better to reduce caffeine.

When trying to abruptly stop drinking coffee, about half of people will experience withdrawal symptoms: drowsiness, lethargy, headaches, nausea, and muscle pain. But if you don’t quit abruptly but gradually reduce your daily doses of caffeine—for example, over two to three weeks— there are almost no withdrawal symptoms.

Coffee substitutes with chicory can also help here. For example, a cup of chicory can replace one cup of coffee a day. And then gradually increase the amount of the substitute. This should be done until someone replaces coffee, tea, and other caffeinated drinks with chicory drinks, such as energy drinks.

For most people, after completely giving up caffeine, sensitivity to it is restored in about a year. After that, safe doses of caffeine will start to invigorate them again.

How safe is it to consume chicory?

Chicory roots are not toxic. Therefore, no maximum allowable dosages for this product or concentrated extracts exist. However, chicory components can still harm some people under certain conditions.

Should I replace coffee with chicory?

Side effects of chicory. Inulins are food for intestinal bacteria. If they get too much, they “overeat” and begin to intensively produce hydrogen, carbon dioxide, methane, and sulfur compounds that make up intestinal gases. Therefore, in some sources, it is advised to consume no more than 10 g, and in others – no more than 20 g of pure inulin per day.

But if you put no more than one or two teaspoons of chicory in one cup of drink, it is not so easy to exceed the recommended doses. To do this, you need to drink 5-10 cups of the drink a day.

Another potential problem is an allergy to chicory components. True, it is rare: over the past 100 years, about 20 cases have been described. Moreover, allergies often occur in people who grew or processed chicory. They developed an allergic reaction due to inhalation of the air in which the plant particles were located or if the juice got on the mucous membranes and skin.

After eating chicory, allergies occur even less often. In almost all known cases, this has happened to people who were already allergic to birch pollen. They are safer to avoid drinks with chicory.

How much chicory can you drink per day? According to the available data, chicory is safe if you use its extract at the rate of 1 g per kilogram of body weight per day. But given that excess inulin causes intestinal gas, drinking more than 5-10 cups of chicory daily is still not worth it.

Can chicory be pregnant and lactating? There is no reliable data on how safe chicory is for pregnant and lactating women. But since there are very few potentially toxic substances in chicory, likely, healthy pregnant and lactating women without birch pollen allergy can easily afford one to two cups of the drink a day.

Is it possible for children to have chicory? Data on the safety of chicory for children is also very limited. But there is scientific work showing that daily consumption of chicory in children aged three to six helped maintain healthy levels of beneficial gut bacteria.

Therefore, it can be assumed that a drink based on chicory can be given to children from the age of three. You should not offer it to young children: almost nothing is known about how it affects babies.

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