“Dr. Hardick, what about coffee?”
My typical response: “it’s not your worst enemy.”
People love their java but often feel guilty, thinking coffee is “bad for you.” Think again. Evidence is mounting that roasted coffee has a plethora of health benefits.
It turns out that coffee, in moderation and properly prepared, can be a good thing. A variety of recent studies show that reasonable coffee consumption does not increase your risk for cardio-vascular disease or any other serious illness.
Drinking coffee can cut risk down for a range of conditions, including:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Parkinson’s disease
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Cancer: Prostate, Liver, Mouth, Kidney and Colorectal
- Heart Arrhythmias
These studies show that coffee contains natural anti-oxididants, phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, and bioflavinoids that offer a nutritional boost. It has beneficial effect on the pulmonary function of non-smokers and a positive increase on the good bacteria in the gut.
But let’s be clear:
Yet, if you looked at all the studies supporting the consumption of coffee to boost one’s health, you would think we should all be drinking several cups per day.
We also all know people with bags under their eyes, horrible skin, and dismal energy – and are addicted to coffee. Did their consumption of coffee cause these symptoms, or did these symptoms bring on an addiction to coffee? Certainly, these folks aren’t walking examples of health benefits touted by the studies. (Trust me, there is much more to the story…)
What’s Going in Your Joe?
More often than not, it’s what we add to our morning cup of coffee that really deserves the bad press. I have always been far more concerned about what goes into a cup of coffee. Your typical add-in’s include sugar, processed dairy, bizarre non-dairy creamers, and artificial sweeteners. Switching over to your ideal combination of coconut milks, almond milk, organic milk, stevia, organic unrefined raw honey, or even xylitol will eliminate a large number of the problems!
When it comes to the use of pesticides, coffee beans have become one of the most-sprayed crops in the world. Look for organic coffee only.
“There’s gluten in my coffee?” Not necessarily.
However, according to well-known natural health podcaster and practitioner of functional and integrative medicine, Chris Kresser, people who are gluten intolerant must be cautious of adding gluten cross-reactive substances into their diets, even if the gluten is gone. These include a number of pseudo-grains including quinoa, amaranth, tapioca, millet, and teff, plus chocolate, dairy, corn, soy, potato, and (unfortunately) coffee. In fact, some labs report that coffee might be the most common cross reactant in gluten intolerant patients! (While the topic of gluten cross-reactivity is controversial, it makes sense to me that people with certain food sensitivities should watch out for others. I would be careful!)
The above three potential sources of problems will create issues whether your coffee is caffeinated or not. Luckily, problems #1 and #2 are easy to address: Watch what you put in the coffee, and go organic. However, if you are battling problem #3, a gluten or other intolerance, but you can’t stand the thought of giving up coffee for good, there are a few options:
a) Rid yourself of coffee (along with gluten). Give your gut some time to heal before re-introducing. When you do, see how you feel. You may become more aware of your sensitivity, or realize that you do OK.
b) Undergo some sensitivity testing for gluten-associated cross-reactive foods, to gather more information on what your body will digest without issues.
What about Caffeine?
First off, caffeine levels in coffee are dependent on the roast, grind, type of bean and the way you brew. Keep these factors in mind if you have a sensitivity to caffeine:
- Dark roasts actually have less caffeine per cup than light roasts.
- Coarse grinds will have less than fine grinds.
- Espresso will have less caffeine than drip coffee. (Drip coffee is brewed longer.)
“I didn’t have enough coffee” is an oft-heard excuse by those who desperately need to ‘get going in the morning’. Clinically, I’m far more concerned about the person who feels like they “need” their coffee (if even once per day), as opposed to the person who has one or two cups per day socially, or because he or she enjoys the taste of it.
It’s a problem if you are drinking coffee every day for energy. It’s actually not providing you any energy. The studies touting the benefits of coffee relate to its antioxidant offerings, not any type of energy-giving powers.
If you are dependent on coffee (or other caffeinated drinks), you probably need a detox from caffeine to reset your energy. Unlike detoxing from sugar, which should occur cold-turkey, with coffee you are best off scaling back your consumption over time, until you can finally get to the point where you can go without caffeine for a full 90 days. In the meantime, switch over to greens, kombucha, or herbal tea (or any other hot beverage that will satisfy your craving for something “hot.”). Follow the advanced plan to further reduce your addictive tendencies.
If caffeine is an issue for you, there is always the decaf option, but not all decaffeinated coffees are created equal. Some decaf brands still contain a LOT of caffeine. Do note that most decaffeination processes use many chemicals, so look for cold brewed / Swiss water decaf options wherever possible. These methods are safer, use fewer chemicals, and reduce the tannin content. In my opinion, if you’re looking to reduce your true toxic burden, you’re probably better off with a mildly caffeinated coffee than a chemically decaffeinated coffee!
Moderation and Tolerance
In the end, some people just have a better “tolerance” for caffeine and for coffee, and this is driven by their genetics, stress levels, diet, and environment. If you presently have a fairly decent tolerance, the way to ensure you never develop an intolerance is to drink coffee “in moderation.”
I realize this means different things to different people. However, just about everyone can consume less coffee, reap the health benefits, and become less of an addict in the process.
There was a time a few years ago that I really thought I “needed” coffee. Then I realized any hot drink was often enough to trick my brain. I also realized that energizing drinks like GREENS and shots of wheat grass provided actual energy – not just perceived energy.
And don’t be afraid to start replacing coffees with power naps. The afternoon siesta made popular in the Mediterranean has certainly played a major part in that culture’s good health, longevity, and vitality … which probably makes them more tolerant to coffee, too.
Coffee Shopping List
Look for all of the following:
- Certified organic (pesticide free/shade-grown/sustainable)
- Whole bean (Fresh! – grind it yourself if possible)
- Free trade (produced by farmers who are members of a democratically run cooperative, that is produced without child labour, where there are restrictions on the use of herbicides and pesticides, and in which the final exporter is paid a minimum price and a price premium
- Use cold, pure, filtered water to brew.
- Use high-quality fresh beans.
- For Decaf lovers, seek out coffees that are cold brewed / Swiss water decaf options.
Just Say No:
- Low quality brands (these can contain molds).
- Bleached filters – these are loaded with toxins which leach into the coffee.
- Plastic or styrofoam cups. (Use glass or ceramic mugs instead.)
- Old coffee can turn rancid. Pitch it if it smells “off.”
- Electrolyte imbalance (coffee is a diuretic!)
- Hypothalamic pituitary axis dysregulation (adrenal fatigue)
- Genetic sensitivity