Coffee, like every other food and beverage, needs to be assessed holistically and individually. I’m often asked why information concerning foods such as coffee, soy and gluten is all so contradictory. Really and truly, if we understand that all foods have different nutritional elements that are required by some and not by others, then we’ll understand that information is not contradictory, it’s just not able to be applied to everyone. This concept is something I really want people to understand, to avoid getting mislead into thinking that all our bodies have the same nutritional foundations and requirements.
Coffee is either viewed as an addictive toxin, or a highly beneficial antioxidant rich drink, depending on who you ask. Let’s look at the science.
It’s true - coffee really is incredibly high in antioxidants, namely chlorogenic acid. There are numerous studies that conclude it is one of the most dense sources and that most people actually obtain the majority of their antioxidants from coffee - not from fruit and vegetables. Now that’s not necessarily a good thing, but it IS a testament to how many antioxidants there actually are in coffee beans.
Coffee is also a stimulant, as it increases adrenaline levels in the body. This is due to its caffeine content. Depending on how much caffeine you have consumed and how tolerant your body is of caffeine, you may experience symptoms such as restlessness, anxiety, insomnia or tremors.
I often get asked why only some experience these symptoms when consuming caffeine. It all comes down to holistic nutrition and what else is happening in your body. We all have different requirements, tolerance levels, and nutrient status. How we respond to caffeine can be put down to quite a few things. It can whether we have the enzymes to break down caffeine in the liver or even what we drank our coffee with (milks containing more fat tend to slow down the caffeine response). Therefore, liver health is important to consider when analysing the effect of caffeine in the human body. There are also genetic elements and certain disorders that would mean someone tolerates caffeine less than others. Also, it depends how much you drank! If you do experience these symptoms when you drink coffee, you may want to look at reducing your overall intake.
Coffee has also been found to aid fat burning as it can improve your metabolic rate and insulin sensitivity. Studies and research have indicated that consuming coffee within 30 minutes of a high carbohydrate meal will slow down the release of glucose and decrease insulin resistance.
There have also been numerous studies undertaken to examine the effects of coffee and diabetes and it was found in five different studies, spread over gender, age and existing health conditions, that people who consume moderate and large amounts of coffee are less likely to develop Type 2. diabetes. Interestingly enough, two of these studies completed the same tests on groups drinking decaffeinated as well as caffeinated coffee. The results were the same, meaning it has shown that the positive effects on diabetes can be attributed to the antioxidants in the coffee itself, not the caffeine.
But is coffee right for you?
If you’re pregnant, probably not. Caffeine has the ability to cross the placenta and reach the fetus, which effectively means you are caffeinating your baby.
Caffeine can also decrease your absorption of iron by up to 39%, if consumed within two hours of foods rich in iron. This is a significant amount and definitely worth considering if you are iron deficient, trying to improve iron status nutritionally, or supplementing iron.
Coffee, due to its caffeine element, has also been found to increase blood pressure within 1 hour of consumption. The elevation is only slight and not concerning, however for an individual who may already have a high blood pressure, coffee consumption may be worth controlling.
Caffeine also increases urinary excretion of calcium. There are lots of other factors involved in excreting calcium, such as certain pharmaceutical medications and natural plant compounds found in foods, however caffeine needs to be monitored in individuals who may have osteoporosis, for instance. The recommended daily intake of calcium is quite high as it is - so adding on factors to deplete our calcium levels is not always ideal.
Coffee also has a diuretic effect on the body, meaning it draws water from your body and promotes urination. In individuals who consume coffee, their requirements for water is therefore increased. Dehydration is a common side effect of people who consume coffee. When urinating, your urine should be clear. If it is not, you are not adequately hydrating your body.
Coffee has undergone many clinical trials and studies, but it is worth noting that all the evidence is dose dependant and has generally only been studied up until four standard cups per day. Like anything else, too much of something even if it is a good thing, becomes a challenge to the body.
Also note that coffee beans are one of the most highly sprayed food products on the market - so try and avoid overloading your system with toxins as much as possible by sticking with organic pesticide free beans. In Australia, a lot of cafes use pesticide free coffee, however this is more of a challenge to control in other countries that do not prioritise their coffee culture as much as we do down in the land of the coffee bean. Don't be afraid to ask!
But also, don't stop drinking coffee just for that reason. It's just something to think about!
Coffee has been hugely demonised as the main problem for so many health conditions and whilst it may be a contributing factor, it's definitely not the only one. Treatment is just not that straight forward. If only it was always just one type of food!