I often get questions about coffee. Clients broach the subject with trepidation, sometimes almost whispering, “Do you think I need to give up coffee?” They are surprised when I say, “Probably not.”
Coffee is a superfood. – Dr. Hartman
I actually don’t have a problem with coffee, but there are caveats to the promotion of a good cup of joe. If you’re considering whether or not coffee is in line with your health goals, here is some food for thought.
The Benefits of Coffee
There is a growing body of literature on the health benefits of coffee, some of which include:
- Reduced incidence of diabetes
- Reduced risk of liver disease
- Protection against Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders
- Reduced risks of certain types of cancer
- Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
Even as I was writing this, yet another study was published giving coffee the green light in connection with an improved cardiovascular profile.
Did you know that coffee can help protect your DNA? DNA damage is normal and happens to everyone, but at different rates depending on many factors such as lifestyle and toxic exposure. DNA damage has been linked to some cancers, inflammation, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. But research suggests that drinking coffee regularly can significantly reduce this DNA damage. The participants in this particular study drank 16 oz of coffee a day for 4 weeks!
In addition to caffeine, coffee has many other phytochemicals (healthful plant compounds), up to 1000 – that offer various benefits.
Is Coffee Good for Everyone?
We are each unique and our bodies respond to foods in different ways. Nutritional advice must always be personalized for this reason. Coffee is not a great idea for some people. As always, it’s best to listen to our bodies when deciding whether a food is helpful or not. Some people are genetically slower caffeine metabolizers and do not tolerate caffeine very well. For others, who are sensitive to legumes, coffee can be problematic. I’ve seen clients, who are sensitive to coffee for a time, tolerate it better after healing from leaky gut or other issues. For this reason, the Elimination Diet from the Institute for Functional Medicine does eliminate coffee and caffeine. After eliminating it for a few weeks, coffee is reintroduced, if desired, and assessed for symptoms or side effects.
Choosing Clean Coffee
Coffee crops are one of the most heavily sprayed on the planet. Coffee beans can also be prone to mold in the usually warm, moist climates in which they grow. So, it’s vitally important to consider the source of your coffee and the toxic load that it brings with it.
Here are some tips to brew a more healthful cup:
- Buy Organic. Organic coffee is less likely to contain chemicals and pesticide residues.
- Grind your own! Whole-bean coffee is less likely to contain mold and it also tastes better!
- Look for beans grown at high altitudes, which are less likely to contain mold due to cooler temperatures.
- Specialty Grade coffee is grown in more ideal climates, is rated for taste and quality, and is more likely to be clean.
- Tips from Dr. Hartman:
He likes coffee from Guatemala because of the higher altitude (less humidity and lower temperature = less mold) and because coffee is sprayed less frequently in Guatemala. Coffee from Costa Rica, on the other hand, is typically more heavily sprayed. So make sure, if you purchase coffee from Costa Rica, that it’s organic!
- Choose mild or medium roast coffee. Dark roasts have more advanced glycation end products (AGEs).
- Tips from Dr. Hartman:
You may not be able to find coffee that meets all of these criteria, but organic, whole-bean, specialty-grade coffee is readily available in many grocery stores.
Keep it Clean!
While coffee can be a very healthful drink, we Americans have a tendency to spoil the benefits with what we add to it. If you grind your organic beans and brew a tasty cup at home, but then add lots of sugar, chemical-laden creamers, or artificial sweeteners, you’re not doing your body any favors.
When I talk with clients about making their morning ritual more healthful, we tread carefully there. Start where you are and make one small tweak at a time. Perhaps you might slowly cut back on the sugar. Or if you’re used to using artificial sweeteners, you might switch to real sugar for a time and then slowly cut back on that as a next step.
A Caution about Caffeine
Let’s address that elephant in the room: “What about the caffeine?” Caffeine, in moderation, is not problematic for most people as long as it is consumed early enough in the day to prevent sleep problems. If you have trouble sleeping or tend to have any kind of reaction to caffeine (jitters or a racing heart), it’s best to cut back until these responses are resolved. Sleep is a critical foundation of health, and caffeine is simply not worth the cost.
Caffeine metabolism is a genetic factor, so some people may be able to have a reasonable cup later in the day with no ill effects. Other people have to stop consuming caffeine at noon or even earlier to avoid sleep issues.
Note that I said a “reasonable cup”. Be careful when buying coffee out. My cup of joe at home has around 50 mg of caffeine per cup for either my usual mushroom coffee or the half-decaf, half-regular mix my husband grinds. Most fully-caffeinated, brewed coffee has about 100 mg per cup. Those are reasonable amounts of caffeine for most people – again, depending on the time of day and caffeine metabolism. That said, espresso, cold brew, and various coffee drinks that you might order out likely have more – sometimes much more!
Food is Medicine
Coffee has gotten a bad rap in the past, so it’s exciting to see this science coming around to the benefits of one of America’s favorite rituals. As long as we keep the source in mind, make sure our coffee is clean, and don’t add inflammatory additives to our cup, coffee can be good medicine too!
Since 2010, Richmond Integrative and Functional Medicine has been helping people to restore their health and hope with an integrative approach to conventional and alternative medicine that’s entirely science-backed. We at RIFM believe everyone is made for health. We offer a comprehensive, in-person patient membership program to ensure you get access to the care you need to thrive.
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