Ask a nutritionist: is coffee good for you?
This International Coffee Day (September 29), we’ve quizzed Frida Harju, nutritionist at health and fitness app Lifesum (www.lifesum.com), on how to incorporate your favourite latte, Americano or flat white into a healthy lifestyle.
In the UK alone, we drink around 55 million cups of coffee today, according to research from the British Coffee Association. Often, the advice about how much coffee to drink, and when to have it, seems confusing – so Frida has helpfully weighed up the health benefits and risks for us, based on the latest research. Here’s what she told us:
Coffee, when drunk in moderation can actually give your brain a boost by improving your concentration, as well as providing antioxidants to help your body fight disease. In fact, Swedish scientists found that drinking a moderate amount of coffee can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. What constitutes a ‘moderate’ amount will differ from one person to the next – guidelines suggest that 3-5 cups of coffee a day is an acceptable amount. However, some people may be less sensitive than others and your intake within the guideline should be based on personal preference and tolerance for caffeine.
If you consume too much coffee in a day, it can cause you to have trembles, sleeping problems, or feel stressed. Coffee is highly addictive – while it makes you feel more alert, once the adrenaline rush from the coffee has worn off you will feel twice as tired as before. This is known as adrenaline exhaustion and which in turn makes you reach for another cup.
When to drink coffee
Contrary to popular belief, the best time to drink coffee isn’t as soon as you get out of bed, but a few hours after you start your day. This is connected to the levels of cortisol in your body – a chemical that signals to your body that it is time to wake up and start moving. When the first thing you do is drink coffee, it prevents the body from producing as much cortisol as it should. This makes you rely on the energy boost from the caffeine, which in turn has a negative effect on your circadian rhythm.
Coffee and health concerns
Coffee, should be drunk in moderation if you have any health concerns. For example, drinking coffee on an empty stomach can increase the production of hydrochloric acid, which our body uses to digest food. When produced in excess, it can lower the natural levels of the acid, which can lead to undigested protein, which has been linked to IBS and bloating, so make sure to eat before you drink your coffee. Similarly, if you suffer from stomach ulcers, gastritis or Crohn’s disease, it is advised you avoid coffee, as it can irritate your stomach, causing unnecessary discomfort.
Lastly, there have been links between coffee and sex hormones, in particular for some women suffering from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. While this link isn’t entirely understood, it is thought that caffeine increases the amount of oestrogen produced by the body, and it is therefore advised that women with PCOS cut back or eliminate coffee from their diets entirely.
If you want to wean yourself off coffee, start by reducing the amount that you drink. If you feel you need your morning coffee, try less caffeinated drinks like green teas in the afternoon. Step by step you should opt for teas over coffee, such as a healthy herbal tea or herbal coffee. These will hopefully distract you from the urge to get a coffee and will help your cravings for something hot to drink.
While coffee in itself has numerous health benefits, as listed below, you can make your cup even healthier. First of all, stop drinking coffee a few hours before bed time, as that will prevent the caffeine from disturbing your sleep. Secondly, make sure not to overload your coffee with sugar – as that will cancel out its health benefits and pile on extra calories. Instead, use a natural sweetener like a spoonful of honey, or if you just want an extra pinch of flavour, cinnamon is a great and healthy addition to your daily cup.
The smell of coffee alone can have a positive effect on people. Caffeine has a reputation among researchers as a vitality and happiness booster. It has also been shown that the chemical reactions caused by caffeine on our brain, may well have a positive impact in the fight against depression. Additionally, the antioxidants in coffee also contribute to making us feel happier.
Better sport performance
Drinking coffee before a workout can reduce the sensation of fatigue linked to physical activity. Because of this, exercise feels easier, giving you the opportunity to perform better. It also blocks the receptors for adenosine in the brain, adenosine is a neurotransmitter that makes us tired.
Prevent muscle ache
According to a study at the University of Georgia, drinking two cups of coffee an hour before you start your workout can reduce the soreness of your muscles once you are done. The same study also found that caffeine can provide better pain relief than other pain killers, so definitely have a cup or two before you hit the gym.
A large study of 445,000 men and women found that those who drank four or more cups of coffee a day had a lower risk of developing skin cancer. This is mainly due to the numerous compounds found in coffee, like caffeine, polyphenols and trigonelline, all of which reduce inflammation and other skin damage caused by UVB. Other health diseases it protects against are type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and cardiovascular diseases.
Drinking two cups of coffee a day can help improve your memory and increase cognitive performance. Because coffee contains caffeine, which when ingested, eventually travels to your brain and makes the neurons in your brain work faster. Additionally, a Swedish study found that coffee drinkers had a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, due to the high levels of antioxidants found in caffeine.