Why do we drink coffee and is it damaging to health?

I am done with coffee!

Since completing my life coaching and nutrition courses and developing my business I have looked at all aspects of my diet, what I consume, my metabolic rate and my energy balance. Like everyone I struggle from time to time with diet and exercise. No matter what I learn or how I develop, I am still human and I want to enjoy life. I think of myself as a realistic nutritionist and I follow the 80:20 rule. However I have done something that I did not think I could do. I stopped drinking caffinated coffee just over a week ago. I was not a massive coffee drinker, I would drink 1-3 cups per day, but I did like my coffee strong. I always had a little milk and no sugar and I tended to have a coffee when I woke up, before exercise and in the afternoon. To this end I did not make a conscious effort to stop drinking coffee, it just kind of happened.

When I started this article I thought about coffee and why I even drank it. I am not sure if I ever enjoyed the taste of coffee, instant coffee is not particularly nice, and to make it palatable you would have to add milk and sugar.

If you do not store fresh coffee properly or use the coffee in time it just tastes bitter and not particularly nice. I also got fed up with spending £2.50 to £3.00 on a cup of coffee which was usually weak and not that nice to drink. I drank coffee out of habit and may have had a mild addiction to buying and drinking coffee. I think we have a funny relationship with hot drink, my wife does not drink tea or coffee and when people ask her what she wants to drink they tend to always pull a face when she states that she does not drink either tea or coffee. It is usually followed by “what do you drink then?”

Anyway, I remember running out of coffee and for whatever reason I did not get around to buying anymore. Instead I kept my travel cup full with either peppermint or green tea and increasing my intake of herbal tea and fresh water. I realised that I started to feel better and I appeared to be much more hydrated. I then made a conscious effort not to drink coffee and I ignored the odd urge for a caffeine hit. As the week has developed my stomach has started to feel better and I did not feel as bloated. For three days last week I did have a slight headache, the shakes and a loss of energy, I am not sure if I was under the weather or that my body was crying out for a caffeine hit, but I feel fine now. I still get the odd urge to drink coffee but these a few and far between.

So why do we drink coffee?

Coffee appears to have overtaken tea as the nations favourite hot drink. It has become part of our culture, it may be addictive, it becomes a habit, it is social to drink coffee, whilst some drink it due to apparent health benefits. I actually enjoyed the process of making coffee and the smell more than the actual drinking. I enjoyed what coffee brought, i.e. going into a coffee shop, buying a coffee and sitting with the paper or a book and just relaxing. It was a habit and it developed and hung around. I felt the need to drink coffee but I never really thought about the health benefits or whether coffee was good for me.

People start their day with coffee and then continue the trend through the day. When you are sat at work and bored or cannot be bothered, going to get a coffee is a good way of having a break. As you go through the day coffee helps to keep you awake and it stimulates the brain, it also may calm your nerves and may even relax you.

Coffee is a good winter drink, when it is cold there is nothing like a hot drink to warm you up. Due to coffee being bitter it goes really well with sweet foods, hence the reason why people like to dunk a biscuit or eat a cake with their coffee. This mix of caffeine and sugar gives your mind and body the lift and adrenalin rush it requires, and this is when habits and addiction is formed.

What happens to your body after you drink a cup of coffee?

I am not sure that coffee gives a strong addiction but there is a noticeable effect on the body and mind. Once the caffeine enters your body you heart rate rises along with your blood pressure. You begin to feel more alert and you become more focused. The caffeine may help you feel less tired as it connects to your brains adenosine receptors. Your body starts to produce more adrenaline, which may lead to sharper vision, better decision making and problem solving.The serotonin levels in your body rise and this improves the functioning of the motor neurons, which in turn may lead to increased physical activity levels and effort.

Coffee can increase the rate at which the cells release energy, this means that your body starts to break down fats, hence an increased metabolism and an increase in the production of stomach acids.

The caffeine causes a diuretic effect, and your body loses water and some essential vitamins and minerals. Essentially coffee will make you dehydrated and it essential that if you do drink a lot of coffee you increase consumption of water, whilst cutting milk and sugar from your coffee.

So how much coffee is safe to drink per day?

Plenty of studies have been done on coffee consumption and the benefits/potential damage. Studies conclude that a healthy adult can consume up to 400mg per day, this is about 4 cups of coffee. Research has found that coffee does not have a negative effect on bone health, calcium intake, heart health, or behaviour. However coffee effects people in different ways and a person’s ability to consume caffeine and tolerate the side effects will depend on your mental health, sensitivity, age, height and weight. Of course if you are pregnant or planning to be it is a good idea to cut the amount of coffee you drink to 3 cups or less. Consuming coffee especially in the afternoon can lead to disrupted sleep and insomnia, so If you are going to drink coffee try to keep off the caffeine from the late afternoon onwards.

I do not believe that the apparent health benefits are totally proven. Coffee may have further health benefits, including protecting against Parkinson's disease, type 2 diabetes and liver disease, including liver cancer. Coffee also appears to improve cognitive function and decrease the risk of depression. Other drinks including milk, natural juice, green tea and other herbal teas have far greater benefit compared to caffeine. Additionally adding cream and sugar to your coffee adds fat and calories up to hundreds of calories in some cases. In fact a large ‘massimo’ mocha from Costa, weighs in at a staggering 469 kcal, a few of these a week will not only empty your wallet it will increase your waist line as well.

From a nutritional point of view consuming coffee is fine as part of a healthy and balanced diet. Drink plenty of water, cut the milk and sugar if you take these in your coffee. Stick to under 4 cups per day and try and incorporate herbal tea into your diet. If you do decide to cut coffee from your diet be prepared for the shakes and headaches. I am glad that I have now come out the other side.

Paul Brown – Life Coach - Wellness & Nutrition Coaching

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