#9) Coffee – Good For You, Mostly!

Yaakov Levine, NTP

The information provided in this article is intended to give a general overview of the topic and is not intended as medical advice. For information specific to your situation, or health concerns, please consult with your medical doctor.  

Nutritionally Speaking: Article #9, Coffee – Good For You, Mostly!

Part of my role as the Nutritional Health Coach at the Natural Grocers store in Eugene is to offer no charge coaching sessions for our customers. As part of the process I ask anyone coming for coaching to bring with them a food/beverage diary of a few days to enable my getting a snapshot of their current diet. The health history form I use has a section for water, caffeine, and alcohol intake. Many nutritionists suggest that a good amount of water intake is to imbibe half our body weight in ounces. A person weighing 150 lbs. would then aim to drink 75 ounces of water daily. We ask about caffeine, in part because it is a diuretic, and when we drink that 16 ounce latte, we will lose around 20 ounces of water (which should be replaced). Other than the time consumed with the repeated trips to the bathroom, we risk being  dehydrated. Caffeinated beverages can also add stress to our endocrine system….depending on the person and how much they consume. So you can imagine that when I was in a coaching session recently with a customer I was a bit alarmed to hear that they were drinking a lot of coffee…10-12 cups each day! They saw my alarm, and asked if this is not a healthy habit?

While we each have different nutritional needs, my first response to most questions of this sort is just like what our mothers always said – anything may be OK in moderation. There are many reasons why for most of us–coffee is a healthy choice, but first lets explore some coffee basics. (In full disclosure I am enjoying a hot cup of fair trade decaf organic “bullet-proof coffee” (see below) as I write this column).

The evergreen coffea bush includes two commonly known species, Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora (robusta). The ripe beans are picked, processed dried and then roasted. We are fortunate to have many dedicated coffee roasters in our valley, each claiming to have the perfect formula for roasting coffee beans to produce the best tasting cup of coffee. Coffee is a brewed beverage made from roasted seeds called coffee beans or coffee cherries that are grown in more than 70 countries around the world. Originating in the Arabic world in regions of Yemen and Ethiopia, coffee spread first to Italy, then the rest of Europe, then to Indonesia and on to the Americas.

Coffee can be enjoyed with or without the naturally occurring caffeine, an alkaloid compound that has a stimulating effect on humans. The brewing method determines the caffeine level. A cup of espresso will yield about 185 milligrams of caffeine; the drip method, 115 to 175mg.; brewed coffee between 80 to 135mg.; and decaf only about three mg. Coffee is often decaffeinated using solvents such as methylene chloride, but the healthier Swiss-water-process that roasters of organic coffee use does not leave a harmful chemical residue.

In his book, The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, noted author and nutritionist Jonny Bowden includes coffee as a healthy beverage choice. In this book, which is available at most area libraries and at Natural Grocers, he describes the health benefits of anti-oxidants that occur naturally in coffee. Two of the anti-oxidants responsible for coffee’s health benefits are chlorogenic and caffeic acids. A typical coffee drinker may ingest as much as one gram of chlorogenic acid and 500 mg. of caffeic acid daily.

The anti-oxidant chlorogenic acid has been found to reduce the absorption of new glucose, and can slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream after a meal. Caffeine can counter this effect so decaffeinated coffee would be a better choice for diabetics and any one interested in maintaining a healthy level of blood sugar, avoiding the blood sugar rolllercoaster effect of Hyper-glycemia (too much blood sugar) and Hypo-glycemia (not enough blood sugar).

A 2006 study of more than 40,000 post-menopausal women found that consumption of coffee inhibited inflammation, and reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease and other inflammatory diseases. Another 2006 study reported in the Journal of Cardiac Failure indicated that caffeine increases exercise tolerance in patients with heart failure.

Did you know that just smelling coffee could make you feel less stressed? Researchers at the Seoul National University examined the brains of rats who were stressed due to sleep deprivation and discovered that those who were exposed to coffee aromas experienced changes in brain proteins tied to that stress. It is important to note that this aroma study doesn’t relate to stress by itself, only to the stress felt as a result of sleep deprivation. I’m not entirely sure if this means you should keep a bag of roasted coffee beans on your nightstand every night, but feel free to try!

The data that first caught my attention in Bowden’s book was his reference to a Finnish study reported in the Hormone and Metabolic Research journal that indicated that coffee actually showed an “inverse relationship with fasting insulin and with blood sugar markers.” The researchers believed that consumption of coffee could reduce the risk of type II diabetes.

As I also suggest for chocolate, I strongly support purchasing coffee that is Organic and has Fair Trade certification. Several agencies help ensure that coffee growers get fairly compensated for their labor and responsible stewardship of their lands.

The “bullet -proof” coffee I referred to earlier is a preparation you may have heard of championed by entrepreneur and author Dave Asprey. The addition of unsalted grass-fed butter, and MCT (medium chain triglycerides from coconut oil) oil according to Asprey, supports cognitive function.

For Organic Fair-Trade coffee and more information on this and other health related topics come in to see us at the Eugene Natural Grocers store. We offer free classes and free one-on-one health coaching sessions (541) 345-3300. Here is the link to our store’s (free!) class schedule: http://www.naturalgrocers.com/store-locations/eugene/OR/events 

Yaakov Levine, NTP