It seems that one minute drinking coffee is bad for you, the next minute coffee is good for you. Still now with all the evidence coming to light that it’s good for your health, it doesn’t take much research to find evidence appearing to suggest that coffee is actually bad for you. So, what’s the crack?
I’ve spent some time looking into this and pondering the difference between the articles and studies showing coffee to be good, and those showing that is has negative results on the health, and this is what I’ve discovered. Please don’t take my word as gospel, I’m not a doctor or a health professional in any way, shape or form – this is just my opinion, if you want to know for sure whether coffee is good or bad for you personally, go visit your doctor and listen to what he or she has to say.
Caffeine is of course one of the most potent naturally occurring chemicals found in coffee. Some, but not all of the health benefits attributed to coffee are linked to caffeine – and most of the potential negative effects from coffee are also related to caffeine. So why coffee might be bad for you or good for you in terms of health, isn’t as straight forward as whether or not coffee or caffeine is good or bad.
Caffeine is a drug, a stimulant, and as with any other drug, overdosing is never a good idea. There are many potential symptoms of caffeine overdosing including increased anxiety, palpitations, raised blood pressure, sleep disorder, headaches, upset stomach and irritability.
Other Caffeine Consumption:
Caffeine isn’t only found in coffee, it’s it’s found in chocolate, tea, ice cream, cola, energy drinks and other soft drinks, and various other products, so when it comes to the amount of caffeine you’re consuming on a daily basis, you need to take into account the other caffeinated products you’re consuming. A can of Monster Energy or Red bull contains a similar amount of caffeine as a cup of cafetiere coffee for instance, or the amount of caffeine in around 1.5 shots of espresso.
We’re all different in our tolerance levels to caffeine, so whether or not coffee is good for you depends on how much caffeine you’re consuming via coffee in addition to the other caffeine in your diet. If you’re consuming caffeine within your tolerance, then you could be gaining the benefits of coffee including those thought to be down to caffeine, without the negative side effects of caffeine overdose.
When you drink coffee:
Caffeine stimulates production of cortisol, which is known as the stress hormone. We naturally produce cortisol at specific times during the day, particularly in the morning and other times throughout the day, and our cortisol levels will drop off towards the end of the day. It all ties in with circadian rhythm, our body clock, and for people who’re suffering from sleep disorders, it’s due to this rhythm being out of sync for some reason.
I was overweight a while back, and I decided to get a personal trainer for a few months. One of the things he was really keen on was that I didn’t drink coffee in the later afternoon, because of the effect of over production of cortisol in the body. He was absolutely convinced that consuming caffeine later in the day was a bad move, because it causes hormonal stress on the body, with cortisol production being stimulated when it wouldn’t usually be, and the effect that this has on sleep.
Pregnant people, especially women ;-), are advised to limit their caffeine consumption, as it is thought that too much caffeine while pregnant can increase the risk of miscarriage or decreased birth weight. NHS suggests 200 mg per day, and they state that this is the equivalent of two mugs of instant coffee, but but that depends! Their chart states that one mug of instant coffee contains 100mg of caffeine, which just isn’t right.
Instant coffee made with a high percentage of Robusta as cheaper instant coffees often are, will contain more caffeine as Robusta has roughly twice as much caffeine as Arabica. Also it depends how many spoons of instant you use, and how big your spoons are, and also how big your mugs are, they don’t state how big a mug they’re talking about, 6ounce, 8 ounce, 10 ounce, 12 ounce, 15, 17 ounce… there are loads of different sized mugs on the market.
Type of coffee:
Robusta contains roughly double the caffeine of Arabica as I mentioned previously, and Robusta is usually found in higher percentage in cheaper instant coffees. So if you’re drinking instant coffee, read the difference between fresh coffee and instant coffee. If you’re continuing to drink instant, then research to try to find out what you’re actually drinking, although I know how tricky that is, as although instant brands will often tell you that it’s a blend of Arabica and Robusta, many of them leave you guessing as to what the percentage is.
Different coffee varietals also vary in caffeine content, and where the coffee is grown (origin) and the darkness of the roast, can also make a difference, you will know exactly what coffee you’re drinking if you drink speciality coffee.
Can caffeine overdose actually kill you?
The answer is yes, in theory it could lead to heart attack, but the level of caffeine required in most healthy adults for this to happen would be very, very high. Most reports I’ve read on the subject deem it unlikely that a healthy adult would fatally overdose on Caffeine by drinking coffee alone, due to the huge amount of liquid that would need to be consumed.
People with other medical conditions may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of caffeine overdose, for instance people with heart problems may be advised to go easy on caffeine, and with people who have Epilepsy, caffeine overdose is thought to be a trigger for seizures.
Caffeine isn’t all bad, many of the studies showing the health benefits of coffee seem to point to caffeine being one of the causes, and when it comes to the effect of coffee on mood, I think caffeine has a lot to do with this, it’s just like with anything else I think, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing.
Caffeine isn’t the only naturally occurring chemical found in coffee, there are over a thousand! A lot of these chemicals, including caffeine, are antioxidants. One of the reasons that study after study are pointing out a plethora of apparent health benefits to drinking coffee, is thought to be the antioxidant property of coffee.
Free radicals are like the masked villains in the body, continually destroying cells, Antioxidants are the super heroes. It is now thought that coffee contains is a more effective source of antioxidants than even fruit and vegetables. These antioxidants may be the reason behind the apparent plethora of health benefits from drinking coffee, including preventing Alzheimer’s, cancer, stroke, type 2 diabetes & many more.
Another factor in terms of coffee being good for you, is the effect of coffee on the mood. I don’t need to do any research to know the mood enhancing effect of coffee, as I experience it on a daily basis. I can literally feel my mood changing after drinking coffee, to varying degrees depending on when in the day I drink it. My second coffee of the day tends to have the most effect on my mood, and I think that’s probably because my first coffee of the day is when I’m rushing around trying to get ready and trying to get the kids to school on time before I go to work (we’re usually running late).
It would be interesting to run a study on the effect of freshly brewed freshly roasted coffee vs the effect of instant coffee, because thinking back to a time where I’d only drink freshly brewed coffee at weekends and I’d drink instant in the office as it was quicker, I don’t recall the same kind of effect from coffee on my mood.
Milk & Sugar – Reasons why coffee may be bad for you?
While it is now believed that coffee could prevent nasty conditions including type 2 diabetes, if you’re putting 2 teaspoons of sugar in your coffees then I would assume that the sugar you’re consuming would counteract the potential benefit of the coffee when it comes to that particular condition. The same I’m sure can be said for coffees ability to combat obesity, if you’re putting milk and sugar in your coffee then I wouldn’t have thought the effects would be quite the same, as you’re not just drinking coffee, you’re also drinking sugar and milk.
Why do Brits spoil coffee with milk / sugar anyway?
In the UK somewhere between 60-70% of coffee consumed is instant, compared with 6 or 7% in the USA, around 4% in France, and just 1% in Italy. Most instant coffee just doesn’t taste good without adding milk and sugar.
Back when I used to drink instant, I wouldn’t have dreamed of drinking it black. I remember tasting it without milk, and thinking how strange people were who drank black coffee ;-), just wasn’t pleasant, I remember thinking it tastes like cigarette ash!
Instant coffee is usually made from the cheapest commodity coffee beans, and is often a blend of Robusta and Arabica. Robusta can be grown much lower down than Arabica, where it’s easier to work, and it can be harvested with machines rather than hand picked, so it’s far cheaper to produce. It’s also generally not as pleasant tasting, although I do realise that there are now some much higher quality Robusta beans being grown, but it’s doubtful these beans would end up in your jar of instant.
A small percentage of Robusta in an espresso blend can be a very good thing, to add a kick and to create a good crema. When it comes to instant coffee it’s all about price, the robusta is there to ensure it’s cheap to produce, and I would assume that the percentage of Robusta is much higher in instant coffee than it is in Espresso blends, although most instant coffee brands don’t tell you what percentage of Robusta they use.
Robusta can have an overly bitter taste, and the fact that instant coffee has already been brewed once I think probably doesn’t help with the taste, see the difference between instant and freshly brewed coffee for more info.
The reason people take milk and sugar of course is taste, and most people in the UK are used to drinking instant coffee, which generally speaking is bitter and harsh when drank black. Even a lot of folks who drink fresh coffee, drink supermarket bought pre-ground coffee which is often over roasted, and is also often not so great tasting on it’s own. It’s no surprise then that most people in the UK have milk or sugar in their coffee. It’s a shame though when you consider it, because coffee is potentially such a healthy drink, but then people are adding stuff to it which isn’t healthy.
What makes speciality coffee different?
High quality freshly roasted specialty coffee is a different breed though. With specialty coffee, the coffee beans are better quality, and more care is taken with the roasting to accentuate the flavour notes that are expected with the beans being roasted. Also, rather than sitting in cold storage, then being transported before sitting in a stock room and then on a shelf for who knows how long, they’re generally used within a matter of days or weeks from roasting. The result of all this is that speciality coffee tastes so much better!
Not only does speciality coffee taste better, but because of the care taken in roasting, there is a range of different taste profiles available. Rather than roasting the crap out of them and getting rid of most of the subtle flavour notes, they’re usually light to medium roasted in order to preserve all of the particular flavours that should be tasted in the cup. So there are coffees that are sweeter, coffees that are more acidic, coffees that taste of orange, coffee that taste of chocolate biscuits… I have even had a coffee that tasted like it had grapefruit in it! So if you drink speciality coffee, if you want a sweeter coffee, you buy a sweeter coffee, rather than buying a more bitter coffee and putting sugar in it.
What I found is that I wanted to stop adding anything to my coffee because I came to realise that speciality coffee tastes so much different from one bag to the next, depending on the origin and the varietal, and I wanted to taste the coffee, rather than masking the flavours with milk and sugar.
Life is like a box of chocolates, so follow me on twitter, and that’s all I have to say about that.