Coffee - Who can drink it and who should avoid it?
Coffee is one of those things - you either love it or hate it. You know if you like the taste or not or if it’s just a reason to drink sugar and cream. You know how it makes you feel. How it affects your gut, your mind, your sleep.
Not to mention the crazy headlines that say coffee is great, and the very next day one saying you should avoid it!
YAY OR NAY?
There is actual science behind why different people react differently to it. It's a matter of your genetics and how much coffee you're used to drinking. Even the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee isn’t consistent. We often hear that an average cup contains around 100 mg of caffeine, but that’s an average. A cup of coffee can contain anywhere between 50 and 400 mg of caffeine.
A cup of coffee contains a lot of things other than caffeine, like antioxidants and other compounds. Which is why drinking a cup of coffee has more benefits then taking a caffeine pill. But do the benefits of coffee outweigh the negatives?
First I think we need to stop classifying foods as good or bad. All foods have positive aspects as well as negative. Which is why you will find articles stating Kale is one of the top superfoods and another that says that Kale will pretty much murder you and your children while you sleep. Ah, yes. Kale. The new Al Capon. The truth is food all falls on a health spectrum. Some foods are better for you, some not so much. But they all have healthy and unhealthy elements to them. It just depends how it balances out.
Let's look at caffeine metabolism, its effects on the mind and body, and whether coffee drinkers have higher or lower risks of disease. Then I’ll give you some things to consider when deciding if coffee is for you or not.
Not all people metabolize caffeine at the same speed. How fast you metabolize caffeine will impact how you’re affected by the caffeine. In fact, caffeine metabolism can be up to 40x faster in some people than others.
About half of us are “slow” metabolizers of caffeine. We can get jitters, heart palpitations, and feel "wired" for up to 9 hours after having a coffee. The other half is "fast" metabolizers of caffeine. They get energy and increased alertness and are back to normal a few hours later.
This is part of the reason those headlines contradict each other so much - because we’re all different!
THE EFFECTS OF COFFEE (AND CAFFEINE) ON THE MIND AND BODY
NOTE: Most studies look at caffeinated coffee, not decaf.
The effects of coffee (and caffeine) on the mind and body also differ between people; this is partly from the metabolism I mentioned. But it also has to do with your body’s amazing ability to adapt (read: become more tolerant) to long-term caffeine use. Many people who start drinking coffee feel the effects a lot more than people who have coffee every day.
Here’s a list of these effects (that usually decrease with long-term use):
Stimulates the brain
Boosts energy and exercise performance
Increases your stress hormone cortisol
So, while some of these effects are good and some aren’t, you need to see how they affect you and decide if it’s worth it or not.
COFFEE AND HEALTH RISKS
There are a ton of studies on the health effects of coffee, and whether coffee drinkers are more or less likely to get certain conditions.
Here’s a quick summary of what coffee can lead to:
Caffeine addiction and withdrawal symptoms (e.g. a headache, fatigue, irritability)
Increased sleep disruption
Lower risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's
Lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes
Lower risk of certain liver diseases
Lower risk of death (“all cause mortality")
Mixed reviews on whether it lowers risks of cancer and heart disease
Many of the health benefits exist even for decaf coffee (except the caffeine addiction and sleep issues).
NOTE: What’s super-important to note here is that coffee intake is just one of many, many factors that can affect your risks for these diseases. Please never think regular coffee intake is the one thing that can help you overcome these risks. You are health-conscious and know that eating a nutrient-rich whole foods diet, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep and exercise are all critical things to consider for your disease risk. It’s not just about the coffee.
SHOULD YOU DRINK COFFEE OR NOT?
There are a few things to consider when deciding whether you should drink coffee. No one food or drink will make or break your long-term health.
Caffeinated coffee is not recommended for:
People with arrhythmia's (e.g. irregular heartbeat)
People who often feel anxious
People who have trouble sleeping
People who are pregnant
If none of these apply, then monitor how your body reacts when you have coffee. Does it:
Give you the jitters?
Increase anxious feelings?
Affect your sleep?
Give you heart palpitations?
Affect your digestion (e.g. heartburn, etc.)?
Give you a reason to drink a lot of sugar and cream?
Depending on how your body reacts, decide whether these reactions are worth it to you. If you’re not sure, I recommend eliminating it for a while and see the difference.
With pumpkin spice season upon us, it is all too easy to use our daily cup of Joe as an excuse to load up on all the sugary latte’s. So if drinking coffee black is not your jam here is a tasty and nutritionally dense way to spice up your life. BONUS: It will also save your pocket book ;)
PUMPKIN SPICED LATTE (THE HEALTHY WAY)
3 tbsp coconut milk 1 ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice (or cinnamon) ¼ tsp vanilla extract 1 tbsp pumpkin puree
½ tsp maple syrup (optional) 1 cup coffee (decaf if preferred)
Add all ingredients to blender and blend until creamy.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can use tea instead of coffee if you prefer.