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Coffee - To Drink, Or Not To Drink
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim on Aug 14, 2013
Dear Dr. Kim:
For years I had the impression that coffee was not a good beverage for people due to its caffeine content.
Now I am reading articles which state that coffee has many beneficial health effects.
If you consider clarification of this matter to be of sufficient interest to your readers, would you please consider making comments about this in one of your health letters?
Virginia A. Dickey
Thank you for your question on coffee and its effect on long term health.
Caffeine is a natural substance found in various plants - us humans tend to get our caffeine from coffee beans and a variety of leaves that are transformed into tea. We also get smaller quantities from kola nuts, the caffeine-containing fruits that impart flavor to various beverages, most famously, Coca Cola.
Caffeine is a central nervous stimulant. Put another way, once in the bloodstream, caffeine behaves like a psychoactive drug, increasing alertness and inhibiting drowsiness.
As a stand-alone substance, caffeine can be toxic to human health when more than 10 grams are consumed in one sitting. Given that the average cup of coffee contains anywhere between 100 to 150 milligrams of caffeine, you would need to drink about 80 seven-ounce cups of coffee in one sitting to dangerously overload your central nervous system and heart, and this, quite simply, is impossible to do.
Here's the thing: when you ingest caffeine in coffee along with other naturally existing co-nutrients like flavonoids (powerful antioxidants) and small amounts of minerals like magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, and even calcium, the overall effect on your physiology isn't the same as when you ingest stand-alone caffeine found in questionable supplements and energy drinks.
Think of it in this way: getting a small amount of caffeine from freshly ground coffee beans is like getting calcium along with a number of other nutrients through green vegetables, while taking products that contain caffeine extracts is the equivalent of taking synthetic calcium supplements that are little more than crushed rock.
What about coffee's acid-forming affect on your blood pH and its potential to cause leaching of calcium out of your bones, thereby increasing your risk for osteoporosis? As explained in my article on the truth about alkalizing your blood, your body is well equipped to buffer the effects of strongly acid or alkaline-forming foods, including coffee, and as long as your consumption is moderate - say a cup or two per day - and your diet includes a good amount of nutrient-rich plant foods like greens, legumes, and perhaps some fruit, one or two cups of coffee daily likely aren't going to precipitate osteoporosis. On the other hand, lack of appropriate exercise, stretching, and intake of a good variety of nutrients, including healthy fats and protein may increase your risk of developing osteoporosis - in other words, having a little coffee shouldn't be as big a concern as what you do with the rest of your day.
So one to two cups of coffee daily is likely fine for the average adult, provided that overall diet and lifestyle are relatively healthy. But you can protect and possibly enhance your health by choosing organic varieties of coffee when possible. This is where it can be helpful to support shops and brands that make the effort to provide organic choices. Sometimes, coffee that isn't labeled as being organic may very well be organic, it's just that the shop can't claim it's organic if the organically grown beans are put through a grinder that is also used to pulverize non-organic beans, so don't be shy in asking if any offerings are made with organically grown beans.
Given that naturally occurring fatty acids in coffee beans quickly go rancid after being pulverized, it's best to go with coffee that is freshly ground; when you drink coffee made with beans that were ground months ago, you probably aren't getting much more than caffeine and flavour.
If you drink one to two cups of coffee daily, it's best for your health to get used to having it without sweetener for obvious blood-insulin and blood-sugar-related reasons. And given that casein and whey from homogenized and pasteurized dairy are problematic for many people, I think it's best to drink coffee black or to use non-dairy milk like soy, rice, or almond milk to lighten it up.
Now if you're the type to indulge in a decadent concoction like Starbucks' Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino once every couple of months with a good friend or two, so long as your body isn't clearly distressed from these occasional treats, who's to say that the good vibes that are generated from occasional happy outings with your besties don't outweigh the potential stress that such treats place on your endocrine system? As I like to say, it feels a little inconsequential to strive to be healthy just to be healthy; good health is best sought to allow for a life that is abundant in love, gratitude, and meaning, right?
The idea is to be sensibly balanced with our daily choices, and to be aware that if we choose to drink coffee, we need to be moderate in quantity and choose the best quality available.
If you have any thoughts that you'd like to add to this topic, please use the comments section below. Thank you.
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