When I started on my nutrition course a few years ago, I was constantly told to give up coffee. It was on the evil list according to all the tutors and all the text books. And if you had any hormone imbalance, it was a definite no-no as it is acts as a stimulant.
I always thought this was so unfair. I loved my coffee! The smell walking into a nice coffee shop was irresistible to me and the thought of giving up my morning cuppa was unthinkable.
To my utter delight I discovered some emerging research suggesting coffee was actually good for you! One study concluded that drinking coffee reduced overall mortality by 10% over 13 years. This was great news for us coffee lovers.
But as always things are never black or white (sorry!). Research is very mixed and opinions in the health world divided.
The good news;
- Heart health – hang on, isn’t caffeine supposed to increase your blood pressure? Well it does raise it initially, but some studies suggest that when caffeine is consumed as coffee, blood pressure elevations are small and coffee beans actually have a protective effect on blood vessels. They act as anti-oxidants, reducing harmful cholesterol. Research suggests 2 cups a day are heart protective.
- Diabetes – many studies have linked coffee with improved glucose metabolism and insulin secretion.
- Weight loss – coffee contains chlorogenic acid, a plant compound that is an effective anti-oxidant thought to reduce glucose absorption. Caffeine increases metabolism and helps to burn fat.
- Cancer – studies suggest moderate coffee intake can be protective against several types of cancer.
- Brain health – we know that coffee makes you more alert, but new research suggests it actually protects against dementia and Parkinsons Disease.
- Depression – coffee might also benefit our mental health. Caffeine stimulates dopamine and adrenalin, giving us a mental boost. 4 cups or more per day has been linked to a 20% reduced risk of depression versus those who drank 1 cup per week.
- Liver disease – while the liver has to break down caffeine, coffee itself can be protective against cirrhosis, non alcoholic fatty liver disease and Hepatitis C.
The bad news;
- Caffeine stimulates cortisol, our stress hormone. And if you are stressed already, you may be relying on coffee for your energy hit – a vicious cycle which can be addictive. High cortisol can inhibit thyroid and sex hormone function causing symptoms such as fatigue, PMS, depression, weight gain, infertility, poor immunity and digestive issues.
- Caffeine can interfere with your blood sugar balance, therefore increasing your risk of insulin resistance and diabetes.
- The beneficial chlorogenic acid in coffee may increase homocysteine levels, an indicator for increased risk of heart disease.
- Caffeine can cause loss of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and potassium. It may also inhibit absorption of Vitamin D and B vitamins.
- Caffeine can interfere with detoxification in the liver of medications and toxins. Certain medications are poorly absorbed with coffee (eg thyroxine and some antidepressants).
- Modern day coffee is often loaded with milk and served with a muffin or other carb-loaded treat. This will cause a huge insulin surge and wipe out any benefits from the coffee bean! Best to drink your coffee neat (or with a small amount of organic milk), alone or with protein.
So like anything we have to take the information and apply it to our own individual cases, and make our own minds up.
We are all genetically different, so we have varying degrees of efficiency at detoxifying caffeine. Some of us can handle caffeine with no problem (most Italians I know!), but I know if I have an espresso after dinner, I won’t be getting to sleep any time soon after. Some people can’t handle any at all. They get tremors, palpitations, anxiety and find it impossible to sleep. And if your liver struggles with caffeine, you are putting it under stress and more susceptible to poor liver function. If that is you, you should stay well clear of caffeinated coffee. Also get advice from your doctor if you are pregnant or have a health condition.
If you can’t handle caffeine or you’d rather not have it, you can still enjoy the benefits of the coffee bean by switching to a good quality decaff. Beware of cheap commercial brands that use harsh chemicals to remove the caffeine. Go for the naturally decaffeinated brands if you can. Look for CO2 or water decaffeinated coffees – these are more and more available – just check the label.
And if you can handle caffeine, a word of caution before you stock up on the Nescafe. The benefits suggested are found from REAL coffee. The less processing the coffee bean undergoes, the more nutrients are preserved.
So have your coffee, but make it the best quality you can find and you could be giving yourself a real health boost.
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