I love coffee. Hazelnut, with some cream and a dash of honey. I love the smell. I would drink it every day, if it didn’t contribute to severe anxiety and blood sugar instability for me. Instead, I’ll have a cup a few times a month if the mood strikes. Sometimes I’ll go months without. But I always notice how nearly everyone I encounter on my way to work has a cup of coffee in their hands. We, as a society, love our coffee.
Coffee is hotly debated in the nutrition world. Like booze, I think that those who want to defend its merits can easily find positive health benefits associated with coffee, and those who are “against” it can find negatives. Let’s examine the great coffee debate.
On the plus side, coffee is very high in antioxidants. In fact, in the Standard American Diet, most people probably get the majority of their antioxidants from their morning coffee. There is also evidence that coffee possesses liver-protective qualities, especially in those who drink alcohol (good news for those of you who reach for a java when you’re heading to work, hungover). We’ve also heard that coffee may prevent Alzheimers and Parkinson’s. And we’re addicted to the buzz: coffee increases productivity and alertness and also helps us “go” in the morning. Many drink it just so they can maintain a regular morning (or whenever) poop. And it sure is tasty and comforting: a warm beverage ritual is a great way to start off the day. And then again at 3pm, when the afternoon crash disrupts your day.
On the minus, coffee is one of the most heavily sprayed crops. It has a very high concentration of pesticides that are also xenoestrogenic and can lead to endocrine disorders and toxic build-up. Coffee, like booze, is a drug, because it contains a lot of caffeine. It’s addicting. If you’re addicted to coffee, you’ll experience headaches – sometimes severe migraines – if you go a day without it, not to mention the fatigue and haze you’ll likely encounter. Caffeine can cause anxiety and sleep disturbances. Caffeine has a long half-life, meaning it takes your body a long time to break it down. Coffee consumed at 10am can still affect your sleep 12 hours later. Also, caffeine affects everyone differently: some can drink coffee after dinner and fall asleep within the hour, whereas others can be wired all day and experience high blood pressure or heart palpitations. Some people just metabolize caffeine more effectively.
Coffee can also adversely affect blood sugar and cortisol levels. Many people like the appetite-suppressing effects and use coffee to stave off hunger. It raises blood sugar, temporarily arresting hunger. But about an hour or 2 later, your blood sugar comes crashing down, leaving you starving, irritable, and/or tired and craving more coffee or sugar. Coffee raises cortisol levels, which can lead to adrenal burn-out and eventually, weight gain. Coffee is not a friend to your adrenals.
Coffee is a diuretic: it causes the body to flush delicate B vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium and potassium. Coffee is acid-forming: it leaches minerals from the body as your system attempts to maintain alkalinity, because it fosters an acidic state in the body. It is also dehydrating (read: bad for your skin!)
So here’s the thing: coffee, like everything else, is probably fine in moderation. And by moderation, I mean once a week or so if you’re otherwise healthy and not physically dependent upon it. But why be a slave to addiction? If you can’t go a day without your coffee, it’s time to examine why. Are you excessively fatigued? Time for adrenal repair. Are you constipated and can’t poop without your coffee? Time for digestive assessment or cleansing. Are you using coffee to kill your appetite so you can avoid breakfast (only to binge later)? Skipping meals is not the way to lose weight. Do you lack focus, or are you foggy without coffee?
Try a week without. Switch to green tea, which is very high in minerals, has less than half the caffeine, and nourishes the adrenals rather than frying them. Green tea promotes good solid, stable energy without the spike and crash, and stokes the body’s fat burning furnace. Break your addiction by switching from half caff/half decaf, then cut down to once a week. Avoid coffee altogether if you have insomnia, high blood pressure/cholesterol, anxiety, if you’re trying to lose weight, or if you’re doing a cleanse. Caffeine affects everyone differently. Use it with care.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.