I delivered a workplace nutrition talk in London yesterday and the topic of coffee came up in relation to energy and weight loss. Is coffee healthy or not?
I thought I would offer you my thoughts on it as it’s a question that comes up a lot with my clients and I’ve also put together a couple of really handy checklists and alternatives together for you to help you steer your own coffee journey.
Drinking coffee can be a tough habit to break; in fact more often than not I find people are more upset about reducing their coffee consumption than their alcohol consumption.
Some people are perfectly OK having a cup of coffee in the morning, but for others, it makes their heart race and they know that when they drink it, it just doesn’t serve them – so firstly, good on you for observing how it makes you feel and having that inner awareness as that is the first step to realising whether something is good for your health or if it is best to avoid it.
For me personally, when I have coffee, I feel like I have electricity pumping through my body and I feel really anxious, so I mostly avoid it because I don’t enjoy the way my body feels, but there is no right or wrong, that’s just me. I feel tons better on herbal teas as I can concentrate much better throughout the day with more steady energy. Having said that, if I am meeting a friend for a drink and the cafe is famous for it’s coffee beans, then I will enjoy a cup, but it’s very rare!
You should cut coffee out of your diet for 4 weeks if you answer yes or resonate with any of the following points. They are simply a sign that caffeine isn’t your friend right now:
- I’m going through a stressful situation at the moment at work or at home and “need” my coffee.
- I notice that after I drink coffee my heart races and I often end up feeling more tired.
- I overreact to things after I’ve had coffee.
- I feel tense after coffee.
- I have energy crashes throughout the day and use coffee to pick me up.
- I feel like the smallest task on my to-do list is overwhelming.
- I get so tense and I make mountains out of molehills for the rest of the day if I have coffee.
- I get premenstrual tension
- I have a liver roll – that increased roll of fat high up under the bra of women and under the pectorals of men.
- I have a tender point in the center of my torso (this can also indicate gall bladder issues, heartbreak or massive disappointment.)
- My gall bladder has been removed (your liver has to make the bile the gall bladder once did, so additional liver support is often required.)
- I can’t live without my coffee in the morning.
- I’m not hungry for breakfast when I first get up in the morning.
- I’ve had coffee daily for a long long time, ever since I can remember.
- I have elevated cholesterol.
- I bloat easily.
- I have a very short fuse or temper.
- I have episodes and feelings of intense anger.
- I have cellulite.
- I have estrogen dominant symptoms.
- I drink alcohol daily.
- I wake up hot in the night.
- I wake up around 2am.
- I overheat easily.
These additional five points will also help you to understand why drinking coffee isn’t a black and white situation:
#1 – Unique DNA
A little fact for you….Humans share 99.9% of the same genes, that 0.1% difference accounts for our uniqueness and response to different foods.
Our liver does many things and breaking down caffeine is one of them. We all have a gene in our livers that makes a specific enzyme necessary to break down caffeine, however due to these small genetic differences, some of us have the enzyme that breaks down caffeine quickly, while others have the enzyme that breaks down caffeine slowly. The gene that controls this slow or quick breakdown of caffeine is called CYP1A2.
People with the fast enzyme see an improvement in health when they drink 1-3 cups of coffee a day, the caffeine is processed and removed quickly while the antioxidants stick around and help protect them against free radicals.
The slow metabolisers of caffeine are more likely to experience health problems with the same 1-3 cups of coffee each day. Heart disease, hypertension and blood sugar level mis-management are known issues that can occur when you are a slow metaboliser. So there is no right or wrong, it depends on you and your body and how well your body is equipped at handling caffeine!
#2 – Quality
Coffee beans aren’t al made equal and quality hugely varies. A lot of shop bought beans are heavily processed and contain no antioxidants by the time they reach you so research your beans and enjoy them as fresh as possible so your body reaps their natural nutritional goodness. Use fair trade and organic sources of coffee (and chocoalte) to make sure you are supporting healthful practices, but organic also ensures high quality beans, free from sprays and pesticides which are rife in the coffee and cacao bean crop industry. Nescafe or instant coffees are a no no for me as they give you no bang for your buck.
#3 – Dependency
If you find that you simply cannot function with your daily cup of wake up coffee then take a step back and listen to the dependancy and addictive qualities caffeine has created. I recommend cycling caffeine and coffee to keep your body in check and free from external pick me ups and dependencies. Do you know how you would feel wihtout coffee? There is no judging in this writing, I’m merely encouraging you to notice habits which might have been picked up over the years which are easily done.
#4 – Anxiety and stress
If you suffer from high stress and have a high level of demands in your life right now, then caffeine can seem like a go-to, but if you are slow at metabolising caffeine, then it will only add to your liver’s stress load. Cortisol is a hormone that your body produces more of when it’s under physical/ mental or emotional stress as part of our normal stress response. Caffeine found in coffee can exacerbate stress and increase cortisol levels, so if you’re a sensitive individual be mindful of this. Excess caffeine can decrease the absorption of minerals such as magnesium, calcium and iron which are needed for adrenal health – so it is always best to moderate your consumption of caffeine, particularly if you are going through a bout of high stress.
Cortisol can throw out our delicate hormonal balance and if you experience thyroid issues it’s best to avoid caffeine.
#5 – Sleep
Be mindful and listen to your body and what it is telling you. If you are worn down, not sleeping well, burning the candle from both ends, are emotionally, physically or mentally fatigued then take a break from caffeine. When your body is under stress, then adding to it’s stress load is something you’ll want to avoid as it might just exaggerate your symptoms especially when consumed closer to the late afternoon/evening times. Some people find that caffeine doesn’t affect their sleep whereas other people find that it does disrupt their sleep, so it’s best to avoid it beyond midday. We are all unique and we have to find what works for us.
The verdict: Coffee isn’t “bad” for you or unhealthy, but for sensitive individuals be mindful of the caffeine and listen to your body especially during stressful periods in life. There’s a fine line between enjoying coffee in moderation and being addicted to it. A great tip is to drop your coffee intake completely for 3 weeks at a time to give your body, hormones, and adrenals a break. If you do love coffee, be sure to purchase only from organic and fair trade producers and use your body’s feedback cues to steer your caffeine consumption.
Two alternatives for you…
Green tea. It still contains caffeine but much less of it. It’s not only a wonderful source of antioxidants, it also contains the amino acid L-theanine, which has a calming effect on the nervous system. A far more nourishing way to start your day than with caffeine-rich and nervous-system-stimulating coffee.
Dandelion root. This is one of the closest coffee alternatives you’ll get in terms of flavour. Roasted dandelion and chicory root come together to give you a fairly close taste and texture. Dandelion tea/dandelion root are great liver-friendly alternatives to coffee. It tastes particularly nice with warm almond milk and a little bit of honey (if needed).
Hope this helps you! Let me know your thoughts below.