Should you be drinking coffee?

Yes, we LOVE our coffee. It’s such a daily staple for so many of us.  But does grabbing that second cup fill you with a little smidge of guilt?  We’re all trying to go the healthy route and coffee seems to rhyme with cigarettes, late nights, and other vices to keep us going. 

You know, I opened my computer to write about how you shouldn’t drink coffee but lo and behold, a little research uncovers how dated my thinking was!  I was ready to put up with the sometimes-bitter taste of green tea or grab a hot cup of chicory (don’t get me wrong, they are great alternatives). But then, of course, I sat down with my morning cup o’ joe and started researching. 

I used to think coffee was bad because that’s what we’d all heard. Then it seemed that the jury was out.  Now, research seems to suggest that it’s not just OK but beneficial to drink coffee. Proven benefits from coffee include reduced risk of heart disease, liver cirrhosis, type 2 diabetes, stroke, even cancer. But most striking, believe it or not, 4 cups a day seems the best number to increase longevity! You become less prone to die from … pretty much most diseases.

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Why?

Like magnesium in dark chocolate and vitamin C in pomegranates, it’s full of those magic antioxidants (contained coffee’s high levels of polyphenols). Remember, those are the things that fight off cell damage from pollution, toxins, over-processed foods, and even stress. Without antioxidants, inflammation occurs and could lead to things like gout, cancer, and atherosclerosis.

OK, so as we are fully aware, coffee has caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant which isn’t great for some people - pregnant women and people with high blood pressure should probably limit their cups. And we don’t usually serve it up to kids for breakfast. But don’t worry, it doesn’t stunt their growth. It is bad for your teeth yes, because it stains and can lead to cavities due to its acidity. And although it does leach some calcium from your body, this can easily be made up with a bit of milk (like two tablespoons!).

Three women drinking coffee

For those of us used to several cups a day who suddenly decide to cut cold turkey, you’ll probably have noticed some lovely withdrawal symptoms, like headaches. Thankfully there is a cure … a cup of coffee. 

Did you know one of aspirin’s main helper ingredients is caffeine? That decaf you drank probably got its caffeine siphoned off into some medicine cabinet somewhere.

Caffeine isn’t all bad – it can help you avoid falling asleep, boost short-term memory, reduce risks of Alzheimer’s, and increase exercise endurance. 

So how do you measure caffeine?  Unfortunately, it’s extremely complicated and imprecise. Measurements can sometimes vary by double.  Why?  

The amount of caffeine depends on:

  • the type of bean (Arabica > Robusta)
  • roast type (lighter has less but only by volume, not by weight)
  • brewing temperature (higher > lower)
  • amount of grounds (ok, that seemed obvious)
  • grind size (finer > coarser)
  • brew time (also related to the amount of water running through the grounds)

Consider that the more water passes through the coffee and into your cup, the more caffeine you’ll be getting. In other words, if you are looking for caffeine, don’t bother with a triple espresso shot at your local international coffee house at $3.30 with 75mg per shot (3 x 75mg = 225mg). Might as well get that brewed cup (16oz) for $2 with 260 mg!  And sorry to report, that instant stuff has only about half of brewed coffee.

How do we make our coffee healthier?  Take it without heavy creams or sugar, switch to stevia, choose different roasts, and use a filter rather than percolating or French pressing. The benefits to our health are not from caffeine but from the antioxidants in coffee. If you are trying to get the antioxidant benefits of coffee without that wound-up feeling, the best thing is to consider decaf at less than 5mg per cup.

Sources

Natalie Olsen, ACSM EP-C. 2018. "Antioxidants: Health Benefits And Nutritional Information". Medical News Today. 

Association, National, About Coffee, and Coffee Guide. 2018. "Coffee Roasts Guide". Ncausa.Org. 

Association, National, and Caffeine Health. 2018. "Coffee, Caffeine & Health". Ncausa.Org. 

"10 Healthy Reasons To Drink Coffee". 2018. Onemedical.Com. 

Coffee and Antioxidants - All you need to know

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