Nutrition 101 – Coffee
Is coffee healthy?
As with many things in nutrition, this is not a black or white answer!
Coffee has become ubiquitous with caffeine, but it is helpful to also consider the two separately.
Caffeine stimulates our central nervous system. It increases our mental alertness and decreases feelings of tiredness while also increasing our brain activity and muscle coordination. Taken before a workout, it can improve our physical performance. At the same time, however, it stimulates our cardiovascular system increasing our blood pressure and heart rate.
That being said, these cardiovascular effects usually dissipate with regular (moderate) consumption and studies do not support the idea that caffeine (via coffee) increase your chance of heart disease. But this can increase our feelings of stress, anxiety, and irritability.
Caffeine can increase our body’s metabolism (or basal metabolic rate) which could help us burn more calories. It may also help lower blood sugar, at least at first. But these two effects could lead to increased levels of hunger or cravings for sugar ultimately increasing blood sugar levels.
Caffeine also acts as a diuretic (stimulating your body to release water) and a mild laxative. You should be sure to drink plenty of water to replenish your stores whenever consuming caffeine. And if you only have a bowel movement after your daily cup of coffee, it could mean that you are mildly constipated, the caffeine acting as a dietary aid to get things moving!
Caffeine can be addictive – you can experience withdrawal symptoms like headaches, irritability, or brain fog. You can also grow tolerant of it over time and need more to achieve the same result.
In addition to the above, regular, over consumption of caffeine could lead to cardiac sensitivity like abnormal heartbeats, stomach and intestinal irritation, and insomnia. It can also decrease your body’s ability to absorb some vitamins and minerals, like calcium and iron.
The stimulating effects of caffeine and it’s effects on blood sugar are particularly troublesome for those suffering from effects of adrenal fatigue or burnout – often people who are consuming a high level of caffeine as a crutch due to the chronic high levels of stress depleting their body of nutrients.
It can also mess with your sleep – even up to 12 hours later! If you’re having troubles sleeping you should think about stopping any caffeine intake after 2pm (or even earlier).
Coffee itself is loaded with antioxidants. These antioxidants get rid of free radicals in the body which left alone can cause oxidative damage increasing inflammation and can lead to cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
It contains some nutrients, like magnesium, potassium, and vitamin B3.
Some studies have shown a positive relationship between coffee and decreasing risk for diseases like type 2 diabetes, dementia or Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s as well as possibly protecting against cirrhosis of the liver.
Other studies have also found that regular consumption of coffee can decrease feelings of depression, especially in women.
Overall, it’s hard to untangle the benefits of coffee and caffeine from each other, since many of the studies done on coffee are using its caffeinated version. However, if you do find your body reacts poorly to caffeine (reflect on whether you experience an increased heart rate or an increase in feelings of stress or anxiety after drinking), then try out decaffeinated coffee instead. Just keep in mind that decaf coffee only removes roughly 97% of the caffeine in the drink, so you still want to be mindful of your consumption especially in the evening prior to bed.
Many people drink their coffee with added milk and sugar. If you are regularly consuming multiple cups of coffee every day with either of these added, take care for the extra calories and sugar you are consuming – often we forget about these when looking at our diet overall. Those calories and sugar can really add up without us realizing it.
The bottom line
Listen to your body! There are some days you may be able to enjoy coffee, and some days where you might need to cut down, or cut it out completely! I personally enjoy a cup or two everyday, but there are some days where I need to skip it entirely. For women, we have hormone levels that are constantly fluctuating all throughout the month. It’s totally normal to have some days where caffeine feels great for our body and some days where it doesn’t.
In the end, as with all our food and nutrition, being mindful and consuming with intention is the best way to ensure we are giving our body the nutrients it needs when it needs them.