We are a caffeine-loving society, with coffee consumption continuing to hover around three 9-ounce cups per day in America, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.
When I hit my forties, I started pouring myself a half-cup of coffee a few mornings a week, wondering if it would help stave off my typical afternoon fatigue. It didn’t solve that issue, but I was curious if drinking coffee in moderation was beneficial or harmful to my health. I decided to do a little research on caffeine and was surprised at what I found.
- The benefits of consuming caffeine in doses such as 250 milligrams (what you would approximately consume in two to three brewed cups) can include increased alertness, improved mental performance and enhanced mood. And let’s not forget the social bonding that often accompanies joining a friend or relative for coffee. When I got married, my Italian grandmother gave me 24 teaspoons with my cutlery set because in her day, you invited EVERYONE over for coffee after Sunday dinner was done! Having that strong social network of family and friends is one of the primary keys to living a happy, satisfying life, so I’d definitely say that’s a “thumbs up!”
- The minerals and antioxidants in caffeine stimulate muscles to burn fat and sugar more efficiently. As a result, caffeine can potentially help prevent diabetes, according to one of the doctors involved in The Harvard Study. According to Dr. Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD, “a 1-cup/day increment of regular coffee was associated with a 9% reduction in diabetes.”
- Despite the high number of antioxidants found in coffee, coffee remains one of the most heavily chemically treated crops with over 200 pesticides used in its making. What about organic coffee? Well, it’s likely to help in terms of the pesticides but there’s still the issue of deforestation related to growing coffee on a mass scale. It may be good to the last drop but it’s definitely not good for the environment.
- Studies have shown coffee to increase hunger cravings and cravings for sweets. According to Dee McCaffrey, CDC and author of The Science of Skinny, 80% more adrenaline is secreted by your body from drinking merely two cups of coffee per day. While adrenaline is a fat-burning hormone, it increases insulin secretion, which in turn causes blood sugar levels to decrease. Struggling with hunger pangs and sweet cravings that come out of nowhere and send you foraging through the pantry or fridge when you’re not actually hungry? It’s those low blood sugar levels triggering those cravings.
- Caffeine also causes an increase in another hormone called cortisol. You may have heard this hormone referred to as the “stress hormone.” Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands and activates your “fight or flight” response. Associated with anxiety, increased risk of depression, lower immune function and memory issues, cortisol levels rise with caffeine consumption. As a result, insulin levels increase which causes inflammation AND since your cells are now becoming desensitized to the insulin, the excess blood sugar in your system is being converted to fat around the stomach, i.e. belly fat. Yes, I said it. Belly fat.
- Sweetened coffee specialty drinks are usually filled with sugar and high in calories. A Starbucks Mocha Frappucino Light with nonfat milk has 130 calories and 26 grams of sugar. If you are wondering if that’s a lot, the answer is YES! It’s nearly 6 teaspoons of sugar, the amount you should consume in an entire day according to the American Heart Association.
While I’ve only touched on a few of the issues associated with coffee, there are many more I haven’t covered. For me, I don’t mind going without it. What about you? Is coffee a “thumbs up” or a “thumbs down” or somewhere in between? Do you suspect some of your health issues are related to coffee consumption? Have you found better ways to stay alert and have more energy? I invite you to share your thoughts and opinions. There isn’t a right or a wrong answer…it’s what works best for you and your body.