I’ve never been to Seattle, but I’ve heard that there’s a coffee house on most every corner. Wilmington may not be so saturated, but we can boast about our hefty share of coffee establishments. We love our java.
As a registered dietitian/nutritionist, I’m asked the coffee question quite often: “Is drinking coffee good for my health?” Before I reveal my answer, let’s first look at the caveats and then the benefits of coffee which are backed up with good scientific research. I want you to be able to make the best informed decision for your health. You be the judge and jury..
Let’s start with the caveats.
- Pesticides and Unfair Business Practices. Did you know that the coffee bean is one of the most contaminated crops worldwide? Not only is conventionally grown coffee sprayed heavily with pesticides, lots of chemicals and solvents are used in processing. All of these chemicals are known endocrine disrupters and can lead to health issues. I always buy organic coffee.
Not only do I purchase organic coffee, but I’ve noticed several coffee places around town offer organic, fair-trade coffee. I always tell the manager that I appreciate that and will come back to that establishment.
Not only do I purchase organic coffee, I also buy “fair-trade” coffee. Most organic coffees are fairly traded.
Fair-trade coffee is certified as having been produced to fair-trade standards. They establish fair prices to the coffee bean farmers and actively support sustainable environmental farming practices. Fair trade also prohibits child or forced labor. Unfortunately slavery still exists in this world and you may be inadvertently supporting it if you buy conventional coffee.
- Insomnia, Nervousness and Anxiety. Listen to your body. If caffeine makes you jittery or wired, gives you heart palpitations or keeps you up at night, you have to cut it down or out. Caffeine ramps your nervous system up too much. Also, if you are using the caffeine in coffee to combat fatigue, you may be masking a health condition that should be addressed.
- Addiction. If you know someone who has had to cut back on coffee or tried to give it up, they may have experienced severe headaches and actual withdrawals symptoms. This is one way to know that you are drinking too much java.
- Decaf? If you choose to drink decaffeinated coffee because you’re sensitive to caffeine, be aware that small amounts of caffeine can still be found. Also, select water-processed decaffeinated coffee rather than solvent-processed. Water-processed uses less toxic chemicals.
That’s the bad news about coffee. The good news is that there is more good news than bad. Coffee has been found to have many health benefits and this is why I tell my patients they can enjoy it in moderation. Some of those benefits include:
- Increased Cognitive Function. Did you ever use coffee in college to study late into the night or to pump your brain right before a test? I certainly did. It was really the caffeine in the coffee that helped us. Caffeine doesn’t make us smarter, but it does make us more alert and boosts the ability to concentrate.
- Increased Physical Performance. Caffeinated coffee slightly increases blood sugar, which is good for athletes who want to fuel their muscles before physical activity. This actually helps athletes train longer and with more energy. Caffeine is known as a performance enhancer and contributes to greater stamina and concentration.
A report published in 2013 by the School of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Birmingham showed that athletic performance times were significantly faster among adult men who drank caffeine drinks before exercising compared to placebo and decaf groups.
- Antioxidants. Coffee offers a high amount of antioxidants which are known to lower inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. Two of the key antioxidants responsible for coffee’s health benefits are polyphenols like chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid, and coffee is considered the richest source in the world.
Research shows that an average cup of coffee contains more polyphenol antioxidants than green tea, black tea, cocoa and herbal tea and about the same amount as a glass of red wine. We should increase our antioxidant intake from whole foods like fruits and veggies but for those of us who tolerate it well, coffee may be another good addition.
- Disease Prevention. Scientists don’t fully understand coffee’s disease fighting mechanisms, but nevertheless they exist. One of the theories is that coffee helps to reduce inflammation, which is the root of most diseases.
Here are a few of the diseases that coffee and caffeine help to lower the risk:
- Type II diabetes: This seems to go against what we’ve learned about coffee in the past – that it raises blood sugars. This might be true initially, but actually there is some research that over time, coffee actually lowers insulin and blood sugar markers. This may be the work of chlorogenic acid. According to the Nurse’s Health Study, two or three cups of coffee a day can lower the incidence of Type II diabetes.
One of the problems with coffee and raising blood sugar levels may not be the coffee itself, but the sugar, milk and artificial creamers we like to add to java.
- Heart disease: Because of the antioxidants cafestol and kahweol, coffee is implicated in cholesterol-lowering effects. In large epidemiological studies (the effects of health and disease conditions in defined populations), habitual coffee consumption is associated with reduced cardiovascular deaths. Coffee intake is also associated with lower risks of heart failure and stroke.
- Some cancers: Researchers don’t entirely understand why coffee is associated with less risk of some cancers, including breast and prostate cancer, but they have several theories. Because it is an anti-inflammatory food, coffee lowers oxidative stress in the body. It also has an impact on metabolites and lipid fractions that act as a safeguard against some malignant cells.
- Neurodegenerative diseases: Because caffeine stimulates the brain and central nervous system and increases cognitive function, it also protects against neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.
In animal studies, mice given caffeine from young adulthood into older age showed protection against memory impairment and lower brain levels of the abnormal protein amyloid-beta or Abeta. This is thought to be central to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. This comes directly through caffeine itself, so decaf coffee would not be protective.
As with all the diseases mentioned, coffee’s antioxidants lower inflammation, oxidative stress and may encourage physical activity in some people. This is important to reduce the risk of all the diseases mentioned.
What’s the verdict?
The jury is in with the medical and scientific community, and also with me. I believe that regular, organic, fair-trade coffee is healthful in moderation. What is moderation? That depends on the individual, but no more than five cups of coffee a day. Listen to your body – five cups may be too much for you.
Enjoy your java in moderation. According to Miriam Nelson, a professor in the School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, “We looked at all the science … we have found no negative, adverse effects on health when you drink up to three to five cups a day.”
I personally love coffee and drink about three cups a day. That’s my limit because I’ve looked at the research and I’ve listened to my body. I do this with everything I consume because I desire optimal health. There are other things I “love,” but I’ve cut them out completely. For example, I love diet sodas, but I rarely drink them. The cons far outweigh any pros.
Coffee seems to have significant health benefits. Enjoy java in moderation.
Here is a testimonial from a new patient of mine in Wilmington:
“Lindy has changed my life for the better. After years of struggling with diets and staying confused about how to eat, she has proved to me that the low-fat typical food plans just don't work. Fats weren't my enemy, but other things were. She set me up on a supplement plan that has increased my energy level and keeps my blood sugar constant and combat cravings. I highly recommend Lindy!” – Marta J.
Lindy Ford, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian and Licensed Nutritionist who runs Lindy Ford Nutrition & Wellness, LLC, a private practice in Wilmington. She received her degree in Nutritional Science from the University of Maryland, College Park. She treats each patient according to their unique physiology so they can achieve long-term results. For more information, visit lindyfordwellness.com, call (443) 417-8352 or send an email to [email protected].
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