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Coffee: the good, the bad, the ugly

November 2019

I feel like this is going to be a popular post, because everyone drinks coffee but they also wonder just how healthy it is. Personally, I don’t drink coffee. I’m part of the rare breed of people that don’t like the taste. So for me it’s easy to avoid, but for many it is a daily must have. They can’t function without one, or two or more in some cases.

So let’s take a look at what the research says.

The Good – benefits of Coffee

The humble coffee bean contains health benefiting properties due to its rich bioactive compounds, including the widely researched caffeine and the polyphenol, chlorogenic acid. Caffeine is completely absorbed by the stomach and small intestine within 45 min of oral ingestion, then metabolized in the liver and packaged up for detoxification.

A lot of research is starting to show that it may help prevent diseases such as type II diabetes, and liver disease. Coffee is also rich in vitamin B3 (niacin), magnesium and potassium. I can hear you all rejoicing now.

Based on the available evidence to date, moderate coffee consumption is also associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease, including stroke. The caffeine compound found in coffee acts to block certain receptors associated with the cardiovascular system (particularly the contractility of the heart and dilation of the arteries).

The Bad – perils of Coffee

Don’t stop reading just because we’re reaching the section you don’t want to hear. It is important to get a full picture and then make a decision about how you’d like to consume your coffee.

As a nutritionist, the biggest issue I have with coffee is it stimulates the central nervous system. In general, many of the clients I see are already so stressed or they’ve lost the ability to cope with stressors like they used too. Coffee stimulates a response similar to how our body’s stress response functions. It increases alertness and wakefulness (thus also impacting sleep), which in some people also increases their anxiety.

Because coffee is considered a stimulant, it is easy to become addicted and therefore reliant on it. Many people note withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, body aches and shakes. Because of these withdrawal symptoms, people feel they cannot stop consuming it out of fear.

Every nutritionist loves to talk poo. It really is our favourite topic, it teaches us so much about your body processing. But with coffee stimulating the nervous system, for many this means it also brings on a bowel movement. From a nutritionists perspective this can be misleading, I want to know can you go to the toilet without a coffee?

The Ugly – you’ll benefit from avoiding

OK so pretty much the good and the bad sections are the key areas I want to highlight, because most people (and I’m generalising) are not abusing coffee. But there are also many people who are, and unfortunately it is becoming more and more common.

They’re abusing caffeine to enhance their concentration and memory or to improve their physical performance, whether it is work or life related. Often taking a combination of two or more different sources of caffeine, for example, coffee and energy drinks, consuming almost continuously for years, reaching an excessive cumulative duration of use. Some energy drinks contain up to 80mg of caffeine per serving.

This can lead to caffeine intoxication, which puts pressure on the heart, leads to psychiatric symptoms and disorders, mainly anxiety and mood disorders, but also behavioral alterations, insomnia, gastrointestinal disturbances, tremors and puts an individual at risk for a premature death.

So what does it all mean?

Coffee in small doses has shown benefits to health. If you enjoy coffee, maybe you enjoy the process of consuming a cup with friends as part of your social gathering, is good for health. So that one cup of coffee you drink per day won’t have any detrimental effects.

If you’re using coffee to keep you awake and alert, consuming many cups per day then it’s time to take a step back and work on other areas of your life.

It is important to note, that there are many caffeine containing beverages and products available and they contain significant amounts of the substance, for example, tea, chocolate, cocoa beverages, soft drinks, and energy drinks.

Just in case you’re curious, it is a straight up no, you should not be drinking soft drink or energy drinks.

Until next time… x


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Written by Jessica Worth, Nutritionist, Sydney, Northern Beaches, Mona Vale

Jess is a nutritionist who is passionate about helping women get their health back on track by prioritising themselves with simple, actionable steps.

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