So many of my clients are successful, self-motivated, and can do almost anything they put their minds to. When we get to the topic of coffee, however, I can see the fear in their eyes and as they clutch their mugs with dear life. Giving up coffee would be a huge hit to their routine. Then I share the good news—I’m not a coffee hater! In fact, I still enjoy a small cup of joe most mornings—sorry, not sorry!
I haven’t always been a guilt-free coffee drinker, though. Its reputation has flip-flopped over the years, with so much of the information out there being beyond contradictory. In 1991, the World Health Organization classified coffee as a “possible carcinogen.” Yikes! Doctors everywhere began warning people of its dangers (with few adhering to the advice). A full 25 years later, this claim was reversed, with a group of 23 scientists linking the actual risk to drinking beverages hotter than 149 degrees—but not to coffee itself.
To my delight (and many others), coffee’s reputation has been making a comeback since the WHO’s claim reversal in 2016. But is it actually healthy? The answer is complicated—but probably the most common answer you’ll hear to nutrition questions: it depends. Let’s start with the bad news (but I promise the good is really good!)
The dark side of coffee
Don’t get me wrong—there are numerous health benefits linked to coffee drinking (more on that later). One caveat, however, is that not all coffee is created equal. For one, unless you are part of the approximately 30 percent who take their coffee straight, your morning cup of joe might not be as beneficial to your health as we’d like. Depending on the ingredients, lattes, macchiatos, and cappuccinos may hurt as much as they help. And if you’re more of the “dash of creamer” type, be picky at the store. Coffee creamers are often loaded with artificial flavorings and preservatives, sugar, and gums—which are unequivocally not good for your health.
You know I am a strong proponent of buying organic whenever possible—for more reasons than one. Conventional coffee is one of the most chemical-laden crops in the world. These include pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, and beyond. This overload of chemicals negatively impacts our soil, water, and air (goodbye natural nutrients). In a roundabout way—this all affects the health of us all.
Genes may influence your coffee habit
It is important to note that the way coffee will affect you is partly dependent upon your genes. About half of the population has a genetic variant affecting the liver enzyme that controls caffeine metabolism. These individuals metabolize caffeine at nearly four times the rate of those who did not inherit the variant and are fast metabolizers. The other 50% are slow metabolizers, and studies show that this group is at a 36 percent increased risk of having a heart attack when consuming four or more cups (around 400mg) of coffee per day. While you may not drink this much coffee, this highlights the need to listen to your body because it may not be able to handle caffeine in the same way others can.
Coffee’s benefits—and how to avoid the downsides
Here’s the good news: the health benefits linked to drinking at least a small cup of coffee each day are simply numerous. Here are some of the most impressive:
- Coffee is a rich source of antioxidants, including polyphenols, hydrocinnamic acids, and ferulic acids.
- Moderate java drinking supports brain health, as it’s linked to a lower risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and cognitive decline.
- Coffee consumption is linked to an 8% lower risk of depression (but not anxiety).
- Drinking coffee may extend longevity.
- Coffee has a protective effect on the liver for both nondrinkers and those who drink alcohol.
To enjoy the coffee’s benefits to their fullest extent, look for organic, Fair Trade-certified coffee. Organic coffee ensures no chemicals are used during growth and production. Fair Trade-certified coffee is carefully monitored throughout all supply chain stages to ensure the highest labor and sustainability standards are met.
Additionally, take your genes into account. Tests like 23andMe will tell you if you are a fast or slow metabolizer. If you experience few adverse side effects from caffeine (jitters, anxiety, racing heart) and it doesn’t impact your sleep, you are more likely to be a fast metabolizer. If that doesn’t sound like you, you will benefit from avoiding heavy coffee consumption (no more than 3 cups per day).
Next, for those of you who prefer your cream with a dash of coffee ;), try out some new products or recipes to make your morning coffee a little cleaner. Malk Organics makes some of my absolute favorite plant-based milks and creamers, containing no fillers, oils, or gums. Additionally, most of their products have only three to five ingredients, and they taste delicious! Another way to spice up your coffee is by adding warming spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom. Top it with a few drops of stevia, and voila! A delicious (and nutritionist-approved) homemade latte.
Finally, don’t forget about the temperature we talked about earlier. Try to avoid any piping hot beverages. As a rule of thumb, aim to drink your coffee below 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Contrary to past beliefs, and lucky for us, drinking coffee can be a wonderful part of a healthy lifestyle. There is so much to love, from lowering the risk of various chronic diseases to increasing energy and motivation. Buy organic whenever possible, keep your ingredients simple, listen to your body, and drink up. Want to learn more about health topics that seem to have no definitive answer? Book a one-on-one with me!