To drink coffee or not? The answers you've been looking for!

Coffee is one of those things - you either love it or hate it. You know if you like the taste or not (or if it’s just a reason to drink sugar and cream). You know how it makes you feel (i.e. your gut, your mind, etc.).

Not to mention the crazy headlines that say coffee is great, and the next day you should avoid it!

There is actual science behind why different people react differently to it. It's a matter of your genetics and how much coffee you're used to drinking.

NOTE: Coffee does not equal caffeine. Coffee contains between 50-400 mg of caffeine/cup, averaging around 100 mg/cup. Coffee is one of the most popular ways to consume this stimulant. But… a cup of coffee contains a lot of things over and above the caffeine. Not just water, but antioxidants, and hundreds of other compounds. These are the reasons drinking a cup of coffee is not the same as taking a caffeine pill. And decaffeinated coffee has a lot less caffeine; but, it still contains some.

Let's look at caffeine metabolism, its effects on the mind and body, and whether coffee drinkers have higher or lower risks of disease. Then I’ll give you some things to consider when deciding if coffee is for you or not.

Caffeine metabolism

Not all people metabolize caffeine at the same speed. How fast you metabolize caffeine will impact how you’re affected by the caffeine. In fact, caffeine metabolism can be up to 40x faster in some people than others.

About half of us are “slow” metabolizers of caffeine. We can get jitters, heart palpitations, and feel "wired" for up to 9 hours after having a coffee. The other half are "fast" metabolizers of caffeine. They get energy and increased alertness and are back to normal a few hours later.

This is part of the reason those headlines contradict each other so much - because we’re all different!

The effects of coffee (and caffeine) on the mind and body

NOTE: Most studies look at caffeinated coffee, not decaf.

The effects of coffee (and caffeine) on the mind and body also differ between people; this is partly from the metabolism I mentioned. But it also has to do with your body’s amazing ability to adapt (read: become more tolerant) to long-term caffeine use. Many people who start drinking coffee feel the effects a lot more than people who have coffee every day.

Here’s a list of these effects (that usually decrease with long-term use):

  • Stimulates the brain
  • Boosts metabolism
  • Boosts energy and exercise performance
  • Increases your stress hormone cortisol
  • Dehydrates

So, while some of these effects are good and some aren’t, you need to see how they affect you and decide if it’s worth it or not. 

Coffee and health risks

There are a ton of studies on the health effects of coffee, and whether coffee drinkers are more or less likely to get certain conditions.

Here’s a quick summary of what coffee can lead to:

  • Caffeine addiction and withdrawal symptoms (e.g. a headache, fatigue, irritability)
  • Increased sleep disruption
  • Lower risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's
  • Lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes
  • Lower risk of certain liver diseases
  • Lower risk of death (“all cause mortality")
  • Mixed reviews on whether it lowers risks of cancer and heart disease

Many of the health benefits exist even for decaf coffee (except the caffeine addiction and sleep issues).

NOTE: What’s super-important to note here is that coffee intake is just one of many, many factors that can affect your risks for these diseases. Please never think regular coffee intake is the one thing that can help you overcome these risks. You are health-conscious and know that eating a nutrient-rich whole foods diet, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep and exercise are all critical things to consider for your disease risk. It’s not just about the coffee.

Should you drink coffee or not?

There are a few things to consider when deciding whether you should drink coffee. No one food or drink will make or break your long-term health.

Caffeinated coffee is not recommended for:

  • People with arrhythmias (e.g. irregular heartbeat)
  • People who often feel anxious
  • People who have trouble sleeping
  • People who are pregnant
  • Children and
  • teens.

If none of these apply, then monitor how your body reacts when you have coffee. Does it:

  • Give you the jitters?
  • Increase anxious feelings?
  • Affect your sleep?
  • Give you heart palpitations?
  • Affect your digestion (e.g. heartburn, etc.)?
  • Give you a reason to drink a lot of sugar and cream?

Depending on how your body reacts, decide whether these reactions are worth it to you. If you’re not sure, I recommend eliminating it for a while and see the difference. 

Recipe (Latte): Pumpkin Spice Latte

Serves 1

3 tbsp coconut milk
1 ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice (or cinnamon)
¼ tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp pumpkin puree

½ tsp maple syrup (optional)
1 cup coffee (decaf if preferred)

Instructions:

Add all ingredients to blender and blend until creamy.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: You can use tea instead of milk if you prefer.

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Are you dealing with crazy coffee cravings or feel like your eating habits are out of control? Join my brand new 60 Day Jumpstart Program and get started on your way to better health this week! Now is a great time to get healthy.

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References

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-coffee

http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/a-wake-up-call-on-coffee

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/can-your-coffee-habit-help-you-live-longer-201601068938

http://suppversity.blogspot.ca/2014/05/caffeine-resistance-genetic.html

https://authoritynutrition.com/how-much-coffee-should-you-drink/

How I (REALLY) Kicked My Daily Coffee Habit

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It used to be a bit of a running joke. My coworkers would look at me curiously and say, "oh, you're off coffee again?" I was forever taking short, one to two week breaks from coffee, only to jump right back on the caffeinated bandwagon. 

I honestly never liked how I felt when I was drinking coffee. I have a lower caffeine tolerance, and it only takes a cup to start making me jittery. I start talking faster and mentally running circles around myself. And coffee is known to amplify stress levels throughout the day, which frankly I didn't need. I'm a pretty laid-back person, so it never felt authentic. But at the same time, it felt necessary just to lift my brain out of the fog in the morning.

My daily coffee would give me the trusty surge of energy to crank out my morning's work, but then I would be left coming down from the caffeine high - and hard. It became tough to avoid sugary food in the afternoon, which I was craving just to bring my energy level back up. It was a bit of a roller coaster, but it still pulled me in each morning.

Last fall, I re-committed myself to a life without the highs and lows of caffeine. It wasn't easy, but there were a couple of easy steps I took to get there. Now coffee is a "once in awhile" treat, vs. a daily must have. After all, I do really like the taste of coffee. It's just that I am choosing IT vs. coffee choosing me each morning!

1. Switch to tea. I know, some of you are thinking, "there's no freaking way I am going to get what I need from tea." I like tea, but I was skeptical too. But, I found a really great organic green tea with lots of flavor that did the trick. I also added solid green tea extracts for a little extra dose of goodness. Granted, there's some caffeine in green tea, but less.

2. More water. After my first cup of tea, I would switch to water or peppermint tea. Often we feel tired when we're dehydrated, so it is a simple hack to drink a bit more water to keep me from turning to coffee for hydration. Side note, coffee is a diuretic. So, not only are you on an energy roller coaster, but you're also zapping your body of fluids!

3. Sleep. Yeah, this is an obvious one. I was terribly sleep deprived, getting just about an hour too short of sleep each night. That doesn't sound like much, but it added up. Prioritizing sleep so I woke up feeling more rested made the next morning's need for a quick pick-me-up much less.

4. Exercise. I had a gym membership right around the corner, so I made a regular effort to get my workouts in and after a week or two I felt more sustained energy throughout the day. It helped me sleep better, too. Win, win!

When things are shifting out of balance and I start reaching for coffee more, I look closely at each of the above four tips and see where I am falling short. Usually it's the sleep thing, but it's all connected!

Are you in dire need of coffee each day and looking to lessen your intake? Give these simple tips a try and let me know how they work for you!