This morning I woke up and, like most mornings, one of the first things I did was head into my kitchen and make myself a cup of coffee. I’d like to think I’m not reliant on my daily cup of joe, but while it is not a necessity that I drink a cup every morning, it is an enjoyable part of my morning experience.
Today as I sat down to enjoy my morning caffeine, I started to think about what exactly were the health benefits and risks of including coffee in the diet. Is my daily cup (or two) something that I should continue to enjoy without worry of what it is doing to my health, or is it an indulgence that I should try to stop?
What is coffee?
Before beginning a discussion on why you should include or remove coffee from your daily diet, let’s take a brief moment to discuss what is coffee. Most people (certainly coffee drinkers) will recognize a roasted coffee bean. This is the finished product though and in order to get to this recognizable state, coffee beans go through a couple steps.
Coffee cherries on the treeDespite the name, a coffee bean is actually the seed of the coffee fruit, which is sometimes called a cherry. These fruit grow on coffee trees. Coffee trees prefer to grow in areas with rich soil, mild temperatures and frequent rain. For this reason,most coffee trees are grown in an area of the world called the “Coffee Belt” which is located around the Equator.
Coffee fruit start as a flower on the tree. After flowering, it takes the plant almost a year (!) to mature into a fruit that is ready for harvest. After harvesting the fruit is picked (usually by hand), and then the beans are removed from the fruit and dried.
Then these green coffee beans are polished and sorted by weight and size before they are ready to be exported and roasted. During roasting the beans are heated until they reach an internal temperature of 400 degrees Fahrenheit. The beans are now ready to be ground, brewed and consumed. Yum!
The Health Benefits of Coffee
There are a multitude of studies around the internet that have looked into what exactly coffee does to the body. There are ones praising coffee and it’s many benefits to the body, and there are others warning of over consumption and the risks that coffee drinkers take everyday.
Here is my take-away on these studies. Keep in mind I am a coffee drinker, and so my views on this might be skewed because I don’t want to have to give up my morning habit.
Coffee Helps to Reduce the Risk of Some Diseases
One of the key benefits of drinking coffee is that moderate consumption of coffee may help to decrease the risk of developing some diseases. Recent research into coffee has shown that there seems to be links between coffee consumption and lowered risks of liver cancer, type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and cardiovascular diseases.
Currently it is not known why coffee seems to help prevent some of these diseases. Some researchers and scientists believe it may be because of the caffeine content of coffee (although some studies show the same benefits from drinking decaffeinated coffee), others believe it is because of the high level of antioxidants in coffee, and others still think it may be due to some unknown quality of coffee that we have yet to discover.
One of the reasons for coffee’s many health benefits is due to its high concentration of antioxidants. In fact, for most Americans coffee is the single largest source of antioxidants in the diet!
I’ve talked about antioxidants before when talking about the benefits of including beans in your diet. To review: antioxidants are substances that fight free radicals, which occur naturally in the body.
Having too many free radicals in the body though leads to increased risks of developing cardiovascular disease and cancer. Because coffee contains antioxidants, coffee can help prevent these diseases.
What about drinking coffee for weight loss?
Aside from the claims that coffee can help reduce the risk of certain diseases, I’ve also seen a lot of reports recently claiming that coffee can also aid in weight loss. The main support for this argument is the caffeine that is found in coffee.
Some research has shown that consuming caffeine can help to speed up metabolism and help to suppress appetite. As of now though, most research showing this correlation is preliminary and not consistent. In fact, some research even shows that using caffeine too often causes your body to build up a resistance to it, which means that if you want to get these weight loss benefits you need to practice drinking coffee for short periods of time and then abstaining (for example two weeks on, two weeks off).
Despite the possible benefits of caffeine on weight loss and weight maintenance, coffee consumption can be bad for the diet depending on the way you drink it. Regular black coffee for instance is a very low calorie drink that contains only 2 calories a cup and is therefore a great addition to your diet if you are watching your weight.
Unfortunately though, most people don’t drink their coffee black. Adding sugar and cream or milk to coffee can significantly increase the calories in your cup, and don’t even get me started on the fancy frappuchinos and other specialty drinks that some people consume. The added calories in these type of coffee drinks might actually cause someone to gain weight – yikes!
The takeaway – pros vs. cons
Overall, coffee can be included in a healthy diet, but as always one needs to practice moderation. So far there have been no studies that definitively link coffee to increased mortality rates or other negative consequences. In fact it has been shown that coffee decreases the risk of developing certain types of diseases!
Another thing to consider is that most of these benefits are found from drinking straight black coffee in moderation (up to 6 cups a day). Try to drink coffee black, but if you have to have sweeteners or milk, try to stick to fat free milk and try only a small amount of sugar or honey.
Also, pay attention to when you drink your coffee. Caffeine is a stimulant, so if you drink it too late in the day you might find yourself unable to get to sleep at night.
So, should you drink coffee?
Well ultimately this is up to you! What do you think? Do you think coffee can be a healthy part of the diet? Or do you think it should be removed? Let me know in the comments below!