Caffeine can boost our focus, mood and even our athletic performance. Too much, though, can leave us feeling irritable, raise blood pressure and interfere with sleep. And so many of our go-to options are loaded with sugar or artificial sweeteners. Here’s a rundown of 5 natural pick-me-ups that you can feel good about, including alternatives for energy drinks, Diet Coke and Loaded Tea.

How much is too much?  Most major health organizations say that up to 300-400 mg of caffeine daily is fine for most adults. Exceptions include women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and people with hypertension or other cardiovascular issues, among others.  

Coffee | 100 mg per cup home-brewed coffee

Coffee is a surprising source of antioxidants, with evidence-based health benefits including better mood, lower incidence of depression, lower risk of diabetes, improved alertness and mental performance, lower risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and gallbladder disease, increased metabolism and increased athletic performance. 

Sip it hot or iced, black or with a splash of half and half or plant-based coffee creamer. Blend coffee concentrate or iced coffee with protein powder and/or collagen for a pick-me-up that can pull double-duty as breakfast or a snack on the run. 

Green Tea; Green Tea Matcha | 30 mg per cup home-brewed green tea

Black, white, oolong and green tea all are rich in antioxidants; green tea has the highest concentration of catechins, a type of antioxidant linked to lower incidence of cancer and heart disease. 

Matcha is a finely ground green tea powder that allows us to get even more of that antioxidant benefit. It’s rich in L-theanine, an amino acid that can enhance mental alertness and relaxation without causing drowsiness.

PLUS: Three Better-for-You Caffeine Swaps

Red Bull => Hi-Ball Energy

  • Sugar Free Red Bull: Sweetened two artificial sweeteners (acesulfame potassium and aspartame); 80 mg caffeine per 8.4 oz
  • Better Bet: Hi-Ball Energy with zero sugar with no artificial sweeteners, organic guarana, ginseng and caffeine; 80 mg caffeine per 8 oz.

Loaded Tea => nuun Sport + Caffeine

  • Loaded Tea: Exact formulations vary by store; most include add-ins like sugar-free syrups along with:
    • Option of Herbalife’s Liftoff energy tablet containing multiple stimulants, plus corn syrup solids, artificial sweetener sucralose (Splenda) and artificial food dye yellow #6.
    • Herbal Tea powder: maltodextrin and fructose, with powdered tea and caffeine powder.
    • 160 to 200 mg caffeine per 16-20 ounce cup
  • For more on loaded tea and Herbalife, tune into Molly’s FUELED Wellness + Nutrition podcast
  • Better Bet: nuun Sport + Caffeine with 15 calories, electrolyte-rich, one gram sugar, sweetened with stevia; 40 mg caffeine from organic green tea extract.

Diet Coke => Zevia Cola

  • Diet Coke: Artificially colored and sweetened with caramel and aspartame [see more on these ingredients here]; 46 mg caffeine per 12 oz
  • Better Bet: Zevia Cola, sweetened with stevia, no artificial sweeteners or colors – and same caffeine content, with 45 mg caffeine per 12 oz


Molly Kimball, RD, CSSD is a registered dietitian + nutrition journalist in New Orleans, and founder of Ochsner Eat Fit nonprofit restaurant initiative. Tune in to her podcast, FUELED | Wellness + Nutrition and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at @MollyKimballRD. See more of Molly’s articles + TV segments at, and sign up for Eat Fit Wellness Bites weekly newsletter, here