A question that comes up a lot in my clinic is “can I still drink coffee?” or sometimes it can be a statement “Don’t tell me to give up coffee, because I won’t!”.
Coffee is something that ignites passion in
the hearts of many!
So what is the answer when it comes to your cappuccino, latte, macchiato, flat white, espresso etc? My standard answer is pretty much in line with my whole approach to health: everything in moderation.
It’s important to have balance in our lives and our diets and if coffee makes you happy I’d be reluctant to say you can never have it again. Having said that, there may be cases where I suggest that people do cut it out because it is making their condition worse, for example women suffering menopausal hot flushes, or someone with anxiety or migraines.
My general compromise for a person without these conditions is: 1 good quality coffee per day. What do I mean by good quality coffee? Coffee made by running water through ground coffee beans with an espresso machine, plunger etc. Instant coffee is not OK as it is high in a chemical called acrylamide which has been shown to cause nerve damage and some research suggests that it is carcinogenic (cancer causing).
Studies have shown that if you drink 1 cup of coffee daily your concentration improves. However, more than one coffee daily can reduce your ability to absorb nutrients so no more than one is the rule I impose. Personally, I can’t even drink that much. If I start having one coffee every day, after a few weeks I start to get heartburn and what I describe as a livery taste and smell on my breath. So for me, 2-3 per week is my limit.
Coffee really is a substance that can divide opinions because there are good sides to coffee or more specifically caffeine but there are also bad sides and in my opinion, the bad usually comes from over consumption. So let’s break it down to the good and the bad of that delicious black elixir.
- As stated above, one cup of coffee per day can help improve concentration and learning.
- Caffeine extracts are used in a lot of fat burning pills to increase metabolism. Studies suggest that caffeine does help with fat loss if used short term.
- Contains antioxidants
- Coffee consumption can result in deficiencies of vitamin B1 and other vital nutrients in the body
- Caffeine has been shown to contribute to insulin resistance therefore has the potential to hinder weight loss.
- Coffee can exacerbate anxiety, hot flushes, migraines and long term over use can lead to dysfunction of the adrenal gland.
- Coffee increases blood pressure
Now, you've probably noticed that I've missed one important point from my good list and the main reason why most people tell me they drink coffee; to wake up in the morning. The reason I haven’t added it to the list is because I don’t agree with it. I understand that it feels like coffee is the only thing that gets your brain started in the morning and you just can’t function until you've had a cup but you’re wrong.Caffeine is addictive and this is your addiction talking.
Out of the patients I’ve taken off coffee, whether it’s for a 6 week cleanse or because of a medical condition, 99% of them tell me that they feel better when they’re off coffee, once they’ve made it through the withdrawals of course. Their energy is better and lasts longer, their bowel function becomes more regular, solid and less urgent, their appetite is more balanced and their general feeling of well-being is improved. If you think you’re not addicted, why not stop for 2 weeks and see how you go?
Do you really like the taste of coffee but want to cut out the caffeine? Lots of decaffeinated coffees are made by using chemicals to strip out the caffeine which is not ideal. But you can get decaffeinated coffee that has had the caffeine removed using a Swiss method that is natural (the green beans are immersed in water until there is only 1% caffeine remaining). I recently came across Adelaide company Baristador coffee who make organic coffee in three levels of Swiss decaffeination 70%, 30% and 1% (Decaf). I have been trialing the 1% and 30%. Both are delicious and I have noticed that I am not left feeling dehydrated, jittery or “livery” - this is exciting!
So, you’ve decided your coffee intake is acceptable, you’re not addicted and you’re happy to just have one cup per day. The next question is when is the best time to drink your one cup of coffee per day? I recommend no coffee after midday.
If you are using coffee/caffeine to enhance your performance at the gym then the research points towards drinking coffee before you work out. This is supposed to increase your energy and make you burn more calories. As we know, coffee increases blood pressure as does intensive exercise so I would not recommend this practice for you if you have high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease, please speak to your health care practitioner before using coffee to enhance your work out.
I think, in the morning, with or after breakfast is a pretty reasonable time to have your coffee. On an empty stomach you may find that it makes you jittery so ensure you have something else in your belly. And my number one rule when it comes to drinking coffee – for every cup of coffee you must add an extra glass of water (in addition to your daily requirement) as coffee is dehydrating and must be processed by the body so let’s help it out by flushing the body with pure water to hydrate the cells and aid detoxification.
The info above is my general advice for fit and healthy people. If you have any medical conditions please speak to your Naturopath or health care provider to get a specific answer as to whether you should be drinking coffee or not.
Interview with Steve Davis from Baristador Coffee
1. Why did you decide to start making reduced caffeine coffee?
A few years ago, I went to a naturopath in Adelaide for a general check-up. At the end of the consultation she was telling me she wanted me to abstain from caffeine for six weeks. I knew my head was nodding as she spoke but inside I was shaking my head and thinking, there is no way I'm going to subject myself to vial, decaf coffee.
At that time, I had been perfecting an espresso blend for myself and decided to experiment with a new decaf bean my coffee supplier had obtained. It was much more pleasing than I had experienced previously but it wasn't until I met my current coffee roaster that we were able to extract its full flavour.
With friends 'pestering' me for my blend, I decided to start Baristador Coffee to make it available as a coffee service, rather than a full on coffee conglomerate!
2. What health benefits have you seen since you started drinking Baristador coffee?
I initially found that just going cold turkey from full caffeine coffee to decaf, led to hideous headaches and a really unwell feeling. But as I moved forward with my new health plan in conjunction with my exercise physiologist who encouraged me to move away from my carbohydrate-intense diet towards a more protein-forward diet, I found I 'needed' the caffeine hit less.
In fact, these days I never drink coffee for the caffeine, I drink it for the flavour.
At the same time, I know that fear of the withdrawal symptoms can stop some people from easing off their caffeine reliance, which is why I crafted the 30% less caffeine, 70% less caffeine and decaf options, to make it easier to 'come down'.
3. What is the difference between the decaffeination method of Baristador coffee compared to traditional methods?
A local Naturopath, Phil Sheldon, discussed Baristador Coffee with me on his radio show and was quite impressed by my decision to use a Swiss Water Method decaf coffee. Traditional decaf is made by using chemicals that Phil says are virtually identical to those used in dry cleaning! I couldn't think of anything worse; no wonder that style of decaf tastes awful.
In the Swiss Water Method, the beans are immersed in water releasing some of the oils and the caffeine. The caffeine is naturally removed from the water, and then the beans are resoaked to restore their original flavours before being dried, roasted, etc.
It is worth noting that this natural method does result in some trace elements of caffeine remaining, but I would much prefer that than dry cleaning fluid residue.
4. What is the key to making really good coffee?
This is a personal question, in many ways, because it comes down to your preferences and palate.
Some rules of thumb are:
- Use fresh coffee. Coffee that has been roasted, ground and stored in an airtight bag with a one-way valve for letting unwanted gases escape, can stay fresh, unopened for quite a few months - around 6 months, in my opinion. However, once opened, I suggest using it in 2-3 weeks at the most. Note that some of the coffee you see in supermarkets has already spent 3-12 months in storage and transit!
- Fill your container. Whatever coffee appliance you use, do not skimp on the coffee. Fill the coffee holder to its maximum height. Most appliances and makers have a specific capacity and to reduce the coffee you use can lead to too much extraction and lead to the coffee becoming bitter.
- Warm your utensils. It really does make a difference if you warm cups and makers before making coffee.
- Store in a cupboard. In a proper bag like we use at Baristador, keeping your coffee in a dark, cool cupboard is perfect. I recommend NOT using a fridge or freezer because the condensation that occurs every time to remove and replace your coffee can spoil your coffee very quickly.
Perhaps the best advice is to point you to my most popular blog post ever: Three reasons why your cup of coffee tastes bitter
5. Do you have an interesting coffee fact or quote you’d like to share?
Actually, I have a surprising book. It is called, The Various Flavors of Coffee: A Novel, which I picked up on impulse in an op shop. It is an exotic story about a man involved in the beginning of the organised coffee culture in the 1800s. I learned a few things about coffee, blushed during a few scenes and was quite moved in parts. Not what you expected, I'm sure.