Millions of Americans jump-start their day with some form of caffeinated beverage and coffee represents 75% of all caffeine consumed in the United States. Caffeine is said to enhance alertness and concentration, by giving a boost of energy mentally and physically. Clearly, this is a helpful tool in getting through our busy days and accomplishing everything that needs to be done. But does it come with a price?
With an average of 3.1 cups of coffee consumer per person, per day, amounting in a business that exceeds $40 billion annually, it is no wonder that coffee is one of the most heavily researched foods. A simple internet search will yield hundreds of studies, blog articles and statistics citing the pros and cons of this black liquid that millions rely on and treat as gold. Some experts call caffeine (the main substance in coffee that gives you the lift) an addictive drug, and others hail its antioxidant properties and classify it as a “superfood.” Some claim that coffee can decrease your chances for Parkinson’s disease and Type II Diabetes; while other studies conclude that caffeine makes it hard for people with Type II Diabetes to control their blood sugar and that the pesticides in coffee actually contribute to Parkinson’s disease. With all the contradicting information out there, it is difficult to find the truth, and when 65% of people rely on a cup of joe to start their day, finding the truth is a quest that affects a great number of people.
So what are some stand-out facts about coffee and caffeine that you should know about? Cal, The Hospitality Guy, put together a wonderful comparison of coffee pros and cons. Among the highlights are that coffee protects against Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, lowers the risk of developing Type II Diabetes and provides protection against cirrhosis of the liver. On the other hand, caffeine is an addictive substance proven to contribute to insomnia (a growing problem in the US), anxiety, exacerbate heartburn and acid reflux, as well as contribute adrenal fatigue. (Stop by Cal’s website to read his well-researched article at https://thehospitalityguy.com.au/advice/health-benefits-coffee/).
Despite the high antioxidant protection from a cup of coffee, we still have to look at the fact that caffeine in coffee and other beverages (decaf still contains some) inhibits the absorption of essential minerals such as iron, magnesium, calcium, zinc, and B vitamins. Others (Vitamins A, D, E and K) are flooded out through urine. This can be harmful for those prone to osteoporosis, anemia and heart disease. B vitamins are particularly important, as they help your body make protein and energy, control the nervous system, support adrenal function (think “fight or flight”), and are involved with the synthesis of DNA.
Many people think they can avoid these problems by switching to decaf. However, decaf presents a host of cautions in itself. The process by which the caffeine is extracted from the bean is often chemical laden, and as cited by Positive Health Wellness, “a chlorogenic acid which is also present in decaffeinated coffee reduces your body’s ability to absorb iron from food sources. General coffee drinking including decaf is shown to increase the loss of calcium, zinc, and magnesium.” https://www.positivehealthwellness.com/diet-nutrition/negative-effects-decaf-coffee-need-know/
However, there is good news! While coffee leaches important nutrients from the body, it also contains a high level of antioxidants. Antioxidants help prevent oxidation in the body, neutralizing free radical compounds that are responsible for causing illness. Antioxidants are abundant in vegetables, fruits and whole grains as well, which also provide micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals needed to maintain good health. Considering that the American diet is relatively low in whole foods and less than a third of American adults eat the amount of fruits and vegetables recommended by the government, it is not a surprise that coffee should appear as a leading source of antioxidants in the American diet. Joe Vinson, Ph.D., a chemistry professor at the University of Scranton concluded in a 2005 study, “Americans get more of their antioxidants from coffee than any other dietary source. Nothing else comes close.” However, he also warned that, “…consumers are still not eating enough fruits and vegetables, which are better for you [than coffee] from an overall nutritional point of view due to their higher content of vitamins, minerals and fiber.” Eating a diverse diet ensures you receive all the different antioxidants out there, rather than just concentrating on one source. So, is coffee good for you in terms of antioxidants? Yes. Are there better sources out there? Yes!
You can go back and forth in your mind with the studies and pros/cons of coffee, like much nutrition information out there, it comes down to three main questions, 1. Does it work for you? 2. How is it processed/prepared? 3. Is it consumed in moderation or excess?
It is important to consider the external conditions in which coffee is produced because coffee beans are one of the most heavily sprayed crops and pesticides have been linked with a number of health problems such as prostate and other cancers, Parkinson’s Disease and miscarriages. By drinking a lot of conventionally produced coffee and eating pesticide laden foods, you are consuming these chemicals, and many accumulate in the body causing problems down the line. If coffee is a must-have, consider organic and free trade products to reduce or eliminate your exposure to toxins and to protect the health of the people working in the coffee fields. Click here for information on organic and fair trade coffee.
A final thing to not lose sight of is that caffeine is an addictive substance, and it is important to take a look at your coffee habits and determine whether or not you are reliant on it. As a stimulant, coffee throws the body’s chemistry out of balance, and chronic use or dependency on it will cause your pancreas, liver and heart to overwork. Many people cannot tolerate caffeine in any form, as it contributes to anxiety and nervousness. Additionally, caffeine takes a long time to go through your body, so if you are sensitive to caffeine, you may feel its effects for up to twelve hours.
If you are considering cutting back or eliminating coffee from your daily routine, take it slow. Because caffeine is an addictive substance, you could experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and mood swings. Follow these tips to kick the habit safely:
And if you choose to remain a coffee drinker, then follow these guidelines to protect your body:
- Cut back on other sources of caffeine like chocolate and soda to reduce your overall intake
- Drink plenty of water
- Consume extra calcium-rich foods
- Diversify your diet and be sure to eat a rainbow of colors in vegetables and fruits each day
- Increase your intake of the B vitamins B-6 and folic acid. Vitamin supplements, green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits are good sources of folate.
With all this information, I think there are two important things to remember. 1. Everyone is different. While some people may experience heart palpitations after consuming caffeine, others may drink two or three cups at 10pm and sleep like a baby. It is important to treat your body as the unique entity it is and listen to its messages, rather than what the latest report is telling you. 2. Used in moderation and served black without cream, sugar and fancy syrups, coffee is a valuable source of antioxidants (organic even more so) and helps to clear the mind. Moderation is defined 1-2 servings of coffee per day and a serving size is 8 oz – a bit smaller than what you may be accustomed to. However, if it’s the antioxidants you want, don’t just rely on this single source. Explore the hundreds of other amazing antioxidant rich foods out there.