Coffee…Is it Good or Bad for You?
You probably already know that 63% of all statistics are made up. Yes. I made up that number, too. When it comes to coffee statistics, researchers can’t seem to make up their minds! Is it ultimately good or bad for you?
At one point, coffee was blamed for increased risks of cancer, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Seems alarming, doesn’t it? At least until you realize that these original studies did not take into account other factors often connected to coffee drinkers: smoking, obesity and sedentary lifestyles. Statistically speaking, we could even say that drinking coffee increases one’s risk of smoking or being obese. It’s a little like saying that a high consumption of ice cream causes the outside temperature to rise. The correlation is there, but not the cause and effect. Recent studies that adjusted for lifestyle factors found that coffee consumption does NOT increase risks of cancer or cardiovascular disease. In fact, a recent study shows that drinking coffee may even DEcrease the risks of cardiovascular disease, colon cancer and liver cancer. These studies need to be duplicated for further evidence, but you can see why there is confusion about how coffee affects your health.
It is confirmed that coffee does increase both cholesterol and blood pressure, but alarm bells should not be instantly raised by this statement! If a person is not accustomed to drinking coffee, then caffeinated coffee will significantly increase blood pressure and heart rate, temporarily. For a habitual coffee drinker, blood pressure comes back down to near-normal levels. If your blood pressure is within healthy ranges, then you need not be concerned about your caffeine intake.
The story of cholesterol is a little more complicated. Coffee contains cafestol, which is proven to increase cholesterol in the blood by as much as 7%. Many experts mistakenly recommend lowering cholesterol by reducing coffee intake, or at least switching to filtered coffee, which removes most of the cafestol. This is the same as telling someone to make the outside air temperature go up by buying a lot of ice cream. A high level of cholesterol in the blood is an INDICATOR of damage to blood vessels, not a CAUSE of damage to blood vessels. Cafestol increases the amount of cholesterol withOUT damage to the blood vessels. Therefore, cafestol is NOT correlated to an increase in cardiovascular disease. Decreasing coffee consumption will probably NOT decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease, even if it does decrease cholesterol level. On the other hand, cafestol IS associated with a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease. Filtered coffee contains very little cafestol, while French-pressed, boiled and Turkish coffee contain the most. Espresso coffee contains more cafestol than filtered coffee.
Roasted coffee beans are quite possibly the United States’ number one source of antioxidants, based on both popularity and amount of antioxidants. One of these antioxidants is chlorogenic acid, which has been shown to decrease risk of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. Caffeic acid is another antioxidant found in coffee that, likewise, helps protect against cancer, including skin cancer. Roasted coffee beans also contain melanoidins, powerful fighters of free radicals.
High consumption of coffee has been shown to give good blood glucose test results, suggesting that coffee (both caffeinated and decaffeinated) may help reduce incidents of diabetes type II. In these studies, mostly adjusted for lifestyle factors, the people who drank over 6 cups per day saw the greatest results in blood glucose tests. It also seemed to make a difference whether the coffee was drunk before a meal or all at the beginning of the day.
Coffee makes us feel more alert, and it helps us feel good. Furthermore, it’s mostly healthy. The conclusion: most people can safely drink moderate amounts of coffee and feel good about its benefits! Here are some tips for even healthier coffee drinking:
- If you develop tremors, stomach aches, stressful feelings or sleeping problems, you are probably drinking too much coffee. Decrease your coffee consumption or switch to decaf (although, I would be sure that it was decaffeinated using the Swiss Water Process). As with most things, moderation is the wisest policy.
- Eat plenty of other antioxidants, too! Coffee shouldn’t be your only source of antioxidants. Eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, plus a little meat, chicken, fish and healthy oils. Coffee is not a substitute for healthy eating.
- If you have high blood pressure, consider switching to decaf (again, double-check the decaffeination method). Regular caffeine consumption is still associated with a very slight increase in blood pressure.
- Studies regarding high amounts of coffee and higher risk of miscarriages have been inconclusive. Until more research is done, pregnant women should probably stick to about 1 cup (8-oz) of coffee per day or none at all. Some experts say that 2 cups is perfectly safe, but consult your physician to be sure.
- Drink it black, or close. Adding large quantities of sweeteners, cream and creamers to your coffee will greatly nullify any health benefits of this drink.
- Don’t worry about whether it’s good or bad for you! Focus on eliminating other bad habits, such as smoking, drinking soda pop, over-eating or being a couch potato. The worry will be worse for you than any amount of coffee you may drink.
- No discussion on the benefits vs. risks of coffee would be complete without discussing the pesticides that are used by coffee growers world-wide. My strong recommendation is go organic whenever possible. Many of the developing countries where coffee is grown do not have the same regulatory standards for pesticide and herbicide usage as the United States or Europe, and your body can only detox from so much. Talk about nullifying the health benefits! Coffee is a highly sprayed crop, treated with some nasty chemicals, and I certainly don’t want THAT in my morning cup of joe!
Besides being a drink, did you know that you can find coffee essential oil? It is used much in the same way as coffee, for increasing mental and physical alertness, for decreasing blood sugar and increasing insulin responses, and for decreasing risks of cancer and liver cirrhosis. It can be massaged into the skin, used to fill the room with the smell of fresh-brewed coffee, or it can be added to bath products for an invigorating, eye-opening, pleasurable scent.
Are you a coffee drinker? What is your favorite blend? As always your comments and questions are greatly appreciated!