I recently saw a collection of studies that showed that drinking coffee is good for you – and consuming up to 6 cups per day (!) was linked to less diabetes, suicide risk, gall stones, stroke, Alzheimer's and prostate cancer. Dang. While I don't feel a bit guilty when I enjoy a latte a few days per week, I was a bit shocked by (and skeptical of) those reports.
Many coffee drinkers seem to have a love/fear relationship with coffee. We love the savory aroma, the smooth but bitter taste, and, of course the warm kick of energy that helps us get through the day. But on the flip side, we fear that coffee is keeping us up at night, adding to anxiety, and is generally not great for our health.
So with so much conflicting info out there, what's the real deal about the health benefits of coffee? Is coffee good for you after all? Let's break it down:
Caffeine may not be the devil
If you’re looking for a jolt of energy, then caffeine is often the answer that most folk reach for. This substance naturally occurs in coffee beans, and it essentially tells the heart rate to speed up, promptly increasing blood flow which sends more oxygen to the brain. Zing!
If you've never been exposed to caffeine and suddenly have your first cup of coffee (or other caffeinated substance), your blood pressure skyrockets. Within a few weeks of regular consumption, your body's response to caffeine lessens to a point but still remains elevated from your pre-caffeine heart rate. (source)
Many folks find that consuming caffeine disturbs their sleep, heightens stress, and creates digestive upset.
For others, the increase in extra caffeine may not lead to health issues. In a recent study, women and men age 50-71 were studied to see what effects caffeine had on them and if drinking coffee increased their risk of death. The findings determined there was no rise in their risk of death, and in fact, the more coffee they drank the better off they were. (source)
Surprising though it may be, it seems that caffeine may have some protective health benefits – especially in folks 50 and above.
But what about addiction?
I enjoy being the health practitioner that get to tells my patients it's a good idea to eat foods like coconut oil, oysters, butter, and bacon. By the same token it's nice to see folks relax when I tell them they don't need to give up coffee. BUT – you can call me conservative, if you will: I draw my line at one cup.
Despite the studies that indicate otherwise, I believe that the average individual does not need more than one cup of coffee per day, and definitely no more than two caffeinated drinks total. Why? Despite its potential health benefits and lifestyle perks: caffeine is a drug.
Ideally, I recommend only enjoying coffee as needed a few times per week, however, the strong addictive nature of the stuff has most coffee drinkers relying on a daily fix.
Is a coffee addiction a bad thing?
It's up to you to decide if you are bothered by this addiction. If you do decide to take a break from coffee, you are likely to suffer from fatigue, brain fog, headaches, and irritability. You may even find that your regular BM schedule does not ‘move' as regularly.
The good news is, that if you find that you need or want to stop drinking coffee, the withdrawal symptoms typically only last 1-2 weeks (unlike other drug addictions that have much longer withdrawal time). (source)
Antioxidants – coffee's fighting for you life
Folks trying to convince you that coffee is good for you are sure to mention its antioxidants. Antioxidants protect against damage from free-radicals to help prevent heart disease, liver/colon cancer, Parkinson’s disease and more. (source)
As it turns out, most Americans get their daily dose of antioxidants from coffee, so they’re actually helping fight disease every day.
Consider though, if you eat a Standard American Diet of processed and packaged foods, drinking coffee is hardly a sufficient solution to reducing inflammation and disease. If you're already eating a healthy diet (properly sourced meat, fish, and dairy; seasonal fruits and veggies; plenty of good fat; and minimal junk food) the antioxidants in coffee may be icing on the (already healthy) cake.
What about the toxins in coffee?
The effects of antioxidants might be canceled out due to caustic chemicals like pesticides used to grow conventional coffee beans. Ingesting these chemicals can lead to everything you thought coffee was protecting against – cancer, Parkinson’s, and more. (source) Because of this, it's worth going out of your way to drink certified organic coffee (preferably from a sustainable source, as well).
Aside from the beans themselves, if you're not paying attention I can guarantee you that the cream, flavoring, and sweeteners you put in your joe will most certainly be laden with nasty junk too. Here in Los Angeles, I have to go out of my way to find a coffee shop that has organic, grass fed milk (sometimes I'm that lady that brings her own milk).
When it comes to add-ons, steer clear of the flavored/non-dairy creamers, flavors that come out of a pump, and artificial sweeteners. In my opinion, if you must sweeten and don't have raw honey, sucanat, or maple syrup handy, you're better off with a teaspoon of white sugar than one of those dreaded pink, blue, or yellow packets.
Prefer stevia? Read ‘Is Stevia Healthy‘ here.
Is green tea a better choice?
Coffee contains more caffeine than tea. Beyond that, from Chinese medicine perspective each food and drink also has a ‘temperature' quality (that doesn't always correlate to whether or not you have you drink hot or on ice).
Whereas green tea is neutral and slightly cooling, coffee is hot, bitter, and scatters the ‘qi' or life force. The properties of coffee can exacerbate conditions such as insomnia, anxiety, heart palpitations, and adrenal fatigue. On the flip side, coffee can help conditions including depression, constipation and asthma.
For those who already have a tendency toward anxiety, fits of anger, poor sleep, adrenal fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, or other digestive upset; green tea many be a better choice over coffee (if any caffeine is to be consumed at all).
So… is coffee good for you?
There can be a million studies about the benefits or risks of coffee, but in the end you will know best if this loved and feared drink is right for your body.
Some days the answer may be a resounding yes, and other days it may be best to steer clear. If your body becomes nervous, jittery or otherwise unhealthy feeling after consuming even a few sips, listen to what it's saying and put your mug down.
If you're honest with yourself and find that you do enjoy a cup of coffee each day, you feel great, and truly have no health issues – then ahead and enjoy it without guilt. Good to the last drop.
So what do YOU think? Is coffee good for YOU?