The truth about your cup of coffee.

love-beans-caffeine-coffeeBlack or white? I’m sure you know how you like your coffee and have not changed your preference as many times as you changed your attitude towards it – Meaning that even though many people simply cannot live without their daily dose of coffee it seems like science couldn’t make up its mind yet about whether it is good or bad for you. Is it a relish or an addiction? Living in Sweden I can for sure tell you it’s almost impossible to live without coffee. A phenomenon also called “fika”. Simply translated “coffee break” fika provides the opportunity to catch up, get together or mingle in the frame of a small refreshment any time for any occasion. A tradition that makes the Nordic country one of the nations with the largest coffee consumption worldwide. Apart from the social aspect – what are the pros and cons for drinking coffee?

One of the most frequent claims you might have heard is that “coffee dehydrates you”. Well, the caffeine contained in coffee does have diuretic effects which may make you run to the toilet faster – but only in the short term. Scientific research has shown that the effect is balanced out over the course of the day and people regularly consuming the beverage even become tolerant to it (ok, not to exclude the possibility of “placebo pee”). Interestingly in some countries it is common to get a glass of water served with your espresso. Adaptation on the dehydration hypothesis? Not necessarily – or I would wonder why tea isn’t served with extra water too (cause yes, black and green tea contains caffeine as well – often pampered calling it theine but chemically we’re talking about one and the same substance). Besides historical reasons a glass of water makes the consumption of espresso more gentle to your stomach, neutralizing the increased secretion of stomach acids promoted by the coffee. However, what sensitive tummies would call irritating could be one part of the explanation how coffee can help you with digestion…

Other earlier studies made the coffee’s reputation suffer when the beloved drink got associated with increased risk for heart disease or cancer but more recently health organizations relieved coffee from this burden. (Sigh…) Drawing general conclusions became too complicated since people react and break down caffeine differently. Furthermore, there are lifestyle confounders that make cause-relationship assumptions even more difficult – people with high coffee consumption in many cases are smokers which could bias the study results considerably. And coffee is not all the same. The sort of bean, the roasting and the brewing method has impact on the caffeine content – not making it any easier for the ambitious scientist to find a significant relationship to health outcomes. Indeed other studies have shown positive effects on heart health, type 2 diabetes and mental diseases. Caffeine works as a stimulant, binding to receptors in the nervous system preventing from fatigue and in turn promoting concentration – perceived as energy boost. Moreover, some studies showed that caffeine has positive effects on the increase of muscle mass when working out, and promoting fatty acids to be released for energy supply… a reason why the substance is often used in so called “fat burners”, weight loss supplements – however, as a stimulant it is solely contributing and only has minor effects to the actual aim of weight reduction (not to mention the side effects of these kind of supplements… that however is another topic).

Talking about the beverage’s content people often start and end with caffeine. Poor coffee, not fair. There is a lot more to acknowledge about our favourite drink. Coffee does provide considerably high levels of the B vitamin niacin, magnesium, potassium and many many antioxidants (someone did make the effort and counted them… it’s over 1000 substances, pretty impressive right?). For coffee lovers the stimulating drink is actually one of the key sources for antioxidant intake – which is supposed to contribute to coffee’s positive health outcomes.

As you might have noticed from my argumentation: I just love my cup of coffee – which doesn’t mean that also here you have to bare some things in mind:

  • 300 mg / day is “safe” as part of a healthy diet. Awesome news! You’re good with even 4-6 cups of coffee per day – and filter coffee is one of the brewing methods that results in the highest caffeine content. However, with the abundance of sport and energy drinks on the market the daily dose adds up pretty easily. Some of them even cover the full maximum recommended dose of 300 mg. So check out the label and skip the one or the other cup of coffee…
  • Black coffee has close to 0 calories. Black coffee. If you have a sweet tooth and add milk or sugar (or you do both), guess what adds up! Right, the calories. A café latte may contain 200 cal… not to talk about the Frappuccino or iced coffee that could replace a whole meal calorie-wise. And coming back to the energy drinks, yet calorie-free you’ll find a long list of sweeteners, preservatives and other additives tagged. Mmmh. Sometimes you might just want to stay with the black version of caffeine.
  • Caffeine vs. the other good stuff. Yes, there are some sad news, too. Caffeine decreases the uptake of other vitamins and minerals in your guts. As much as we love to combine our cup of joe with breakfast or dessert they interfere with many necessary nutrients (we might already get too little of). That’s why you should neither binge drink your coffee for its benefits. You maybe don’t want to do your müsli without the obligatory hot drink (remember tea has the same drawback) but maybe leave 1 hour distance between coffee and your meals for the rest of the day.

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