Coffee is a hot topic. At least in my personal life for the past two months it certainly has been a frequent topic of conversation. If you are eating or trying to eat a healthy and balanced diet should you consider giving up coffee? Do the potential problems of drinking coffee exceed the potential benefits? I will try to answer these questions in this article and will share my personal experience with coffee.
Caffeine is a stimulating substance that has been used in many cultures as part of their ceremonies. It is found in a variety of plants such as coffee beans, cocoa beans and tea leaves.
Coffee, brewed from the ground coffee bean (Coffea arabica), is the major vehicle for caffeine consumption with most people drinking 2 or more cups a day. Europeans are drinking more coffee than in the past, with Germans consuming over 7kg per person each year and the Swedes leading in consumption in Europe with 13,5kg per year.
Potential benefits from drinking coffee:
1.Caffeine stimulates the nervous system and increases brain activity. Just 50 to 100mg caffeine, about the amount in 1 cup of coffee, will produce a temporary increase in mental clarity and energy levels, and at the same time will reduce drowsiness. Coffee can help enhance memory and performance and increase cognitive function. This explains why so many of us can’t leave the house without having a hot cup of coffee first thing in the morning!
2. Coffee can also improve muscular coordination when exercising or typing on the computer. It can also speed up the body’s metabolism, helping it burn more calories.
3. Drinking coffee can modestly reduce the risk of cancer and it can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, although we need to drink 3 to 5 cups of coffee a day, which is more than what an average person does
4. Coffee is a rich source of antioxidants that help fight free radicals, and reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.
Potential disadvantages of drinking coffee:
1.Stimulating the brain is just one of the effects caffeine has on us. But it comes with a whole package of other effects as well. Caffeine also stimulates the cardiovascular system, by raising blood pressure and heart rate. Initially caffeine may help lower blood sugar, which can lead to increased hunger and especially cravings for sweets.
2. Caffeine is a powerful stimulant, and the more we consume it, the higher amounts we need for it to produce its pleasant effects. This can lead to dependency that can show up as withdrawal symptoms, such as fatigue, drowsiness and headaches. Fortunately, addiction to caffeine is not as harmful as addiction to most other drugs.
3. Coffee can lead to increased heartburn from stomach hydrochloric acid production, which is bad news especially for people with existing ulcers or gastritis.
4. Consumption of caffeine reduces the body’s absorption of minerals, such as iron and calcium (especially when coffee is consumed around mealtime). This can lead to iron deficiency anemia and increase the risk of osteoporosis. If you suffer from anemia or iron deficiency you should think over your coffee consumption. Caffeine can also lead to a loss of minerals such as potassium, magnesium and zinc, and vitamins including the B vitamins and vitamin C. This comes partially from its diuretic effects, making our kidneys work harder and flushing out precious minerals and vitamins with the increased fluid loss. It is important to drink water when consuming coffee to counteract this effect.
5. As a stimulant, coffee might be great for some individuals, but if you are living in a high stress environment or are suffering from anxiety, coffee is not the best choice for you. When under stress (mental, physical or emotional) the body produces higher levels of the hormone cortisol to counteract it. Increased levels of adrenal hormones in the blood stream, responsible for the “fight or flight response” are a normal reaction to a stress situation, but when we’re constantly under stress (which unfortunately happens to too many people nowadays), the constant fluctuation of adrenal hormones results in exhaustion of the glands and lead to fatigue, insomnia, digestive issues and irritability. Caffeine may temporarily mask those symptoms, but in reality it contributes to further damage to the adrenals. You need to be mindful of your coffee consumption if you are often feeling stressed.
6. In a similar way coffee consumption can affect the quality of sleep, which is so needed to restore our hormone levels, and give our body the opportunity to rest and heal. Avoid consuming caffeinated beverages in the afternoon if you notice that it affects your quality of sleep at night.
7. Not all coffee is the same. Coffee is one of the most heavily sprayed crops with pesticides, so it is important to choose good quality coffee that is organic and fair trade.
My experience with coffee
I used to drink it occasionally, with my highest coffee consumption peaking during the time I lived in Italy. At that time I would easily drink 4 and even 5 espressos a day. I believe I was greatly influenced by the coffee drinking culture in Italy, and as it happens, I became dependent on coffee without properly realizing it. As I moved to Luxembourg my coffee consumption did reduce to 1 to 2 cups of coffee a day. I did quit coffee during my pregnancy, which was very easy for me to do, as I suddenly couldn’t stand the smell of it. Now I am not such a coffee fan anymore, but waking up too many times a night to comfort my teething baby has literally made me a coffee monster. I reached a point where the first thing I needed in the morning was my cup of coffee so I can function properly. The funny thing about it is that I can’t drink black coffee anymore, so I would have a big latte with oat milk to mask the strong coffee flavor. It was at this moment that I realized I needed to do something about it. I also recognized the fact that my lack of sleep is further affecting my adrenals, and coffee was making it all worse, leaving me more fatigued (especially in the afternoons) and affecting my sleep. And so, I stopped drinking coffee on October 1st. It has currently been 27 days without coffee, and boy do I feel a difference! My energy levels are better, and I do not experience an energy drop in the afternoons. My sleep has gotten much better as well, and my craving for coffee in the morning is no longer there.
Since I had lattes in the morning, I simply changed my normal coffee for chicory coffee, which also acts as a mild stimulant, but has no caffeine and does not affect my adrenals. It worked instantly for me! Will I have coffee again? Yes, I will, but it will no longer be part of my daily routine, but rather an occasional “treat”.
So what can you do if you would like to reduce your coffee consumption? Try chicory coffee like I did, or Yarba mate (a mildly caffeinated herb). Matcha lattes and hot teas are also a great option to slowly transition. There are some concerns over the chemicals used to decaffeinated coffee, so I’d suggest limiting it if you can (I wish I knew this earlier!).
I’d like to end this article by saying that we are each individuals, and while for some coffee might have a positive effect, for others it might be depleting and taxing. The best thing you can do is to take an honest and close look at your relationship with coffee and note down how it truly makes you feel. Also, going on caffeine detox for a month will help you get a better evaluation on how caffeine affects your health and wellbeing.
Elson M. Haas: Staying healthy with nutrition