The case for coffee

I flat out, love Coffee. The aroma, taste and experience of drinking an exceptional cup of coffee is in my Australian blood and I wave that "coffee snob" flag quite proudly.

I recently was advised to reduce my coffee intake - due to hormonal imbalances, endocrine disruption and reoccurring IBS symptoms. Immediately there was a moment of sheer panic and desperation. How would I face a 5:45am alarm every day without the smell of freshly ground beans to awaken me? What would I do on a Saturday morning if not for strolling to my favourite cafe post-yoga for a brew?

However, this wake up call, made me delve a little depper and examine the pro's and con's of the black stuff- for the purpose of discovering how I could manipulate my intake of coffee to best help my daily rhythms and satisfy my cravings. This meant addressing the "addiction" side of things, which I did know got slightly abused (6 Flat Whites a day isn't the best idea folks) and gave me an insight (which I had already intuitively connected to) into how I needed to ensure coffee was an addition to a balanced, nourishing and fulfilling diet, rather than a substitute for a snack when my schedule was overwhelmingly busy.

So, as I calmly sit here, sipping my Long Black with a dash of hot milk, I've done my research, feel assured in my progress and can present to you, both sides of the Case for Coffee.

The bad stuff

Coffee tends to get a pretty bad rap among the "health and wellness" clique for the its negative effects on our systems; over-stimulating effects on the brain, increased risk of dehydration to the body, increased levels of anxiety, sleep disturbance and influence on the digestive tract.

Coffee itself is the the most consumed psychoactive substance in the world andalthough caffeine is naturally present in many plant-based foods, the main sources in the Western diet are coffee, tea, cocoa and cola products [1]. 

In terms of addiction, Caffeine suppresses a chemical called Adenosine, which is secreted by the brain to relax the body. [2] The supression of this compound makes the body feel a tense surge of energy. While this surge truly is stimulating, over time the threshold of stimulation continues to rise, making the brain require increasing levels of caffeine to create the same effect. This develops a dependency on users who require caffeine on a daily or in extreme cases, hourly, basis to get stimulated and moving. [3]

The dehydration effects of Caffeine on the body is constantly debated in studies. Currently the available studies on hydration found that caffeine intakes up to 400 mg per day did not produce dehydration, even in subjects undergoing exercise testing [1]. However, when looking at this topic in relation to perhaps the most damaging impact caffeine has on the body - that of the impacts to the digestive system, we see that perhaps it blocks optimal re-hydration. In terms of digestion; Caffeine blocks the absorption of magnesium, a key mineralthat is essential to the colons regulation of normal and healthy bowel movements, as well as supporting the nervous and muscular systems. Coffee additionally acts as a laxative, causing the bowels to move prematurely, before the absorption of water and nutrients from our diet takes place, which therefore links us to increased dehydration and reduced digestion of key macro and micro nutrients required for optimal nutrition. 

On the Flipside

The reputed benefits of moderate caffeine consumption include improvements in physical endurance, cognitive function, particularly alertness and vigilance, mood and perception of fatigue. As a stimulant, it increases activity in the Central Nervous System, adding to a heightened sense of awareness and the aforementioned surge of energy to the body. This therefore allows the individual to undertake action, increasing physical activity output and mental focus & attention.

Some studies also demonstrate caffeine intake can increase fat oxidization [5], as it stimulates the Sympathetic Nervous System to release Epinephrine which can increasing Lipolysis as signals are sent to the fat cells to tell them to break down "fat" to be released back into the blood stream to be used as free fatty acids and metabolised by the body.

Additional research coming out of Harvard recently has mentioned its impacts on reducing the liklihood or protecting against Type 2 Diabetes, Parkinsons Disease and Cardiovascular Disease, with added potential links to reducing Depression in women [4].

How much

So how much coffee can we have? Well, one study concluded that the range of caffeine intake that appeared to maximise benefit and minimise risk is 38 to 400 mg per day.[1].  When looking at that in terms of how many coffees can you consume, there is approximately 63mg of caffeine in a 9g single shot coffee. Therefore in your cafe standard double shot espresso, there is 126mg of caffeine in your 18g of coffee. So to stay within this range, you could have between 1 1/2 shot coffee (31.5mg) to 3 Double shot coffees per day (378mg). 

So, what to do?

Armed with this information, what is a coffee loving human to do?

Well here are six handy tips to help you monitor, reduce and control your caffeine intake so you can find your optimal number of cups per day for your diet, lifestyle, energy levels & satisfaction!

1. Hydrate First

Even with the mixed information regarding the effects of dehydration to the body, aim to always have a glass of water before your coffee so as to almost give yourself a little insurance policy. This could also additionally help remind you to keep up the H2O intake as you reach for the water at the same time as you reach for your coffee cup!

2. Aim for Quality

One of my motto's in life is that if you are going to do something, do it well. So in your coffee adventures, look for a high quality, organic brand or blend. There is increasing evidence of the negative effects of the nasty pesticides on the caffeine crops which are detrimental to both ourselves (gut health) and the environment at large. So aim high and don't settle, life is too short for bad coffee.

3. No added extras

Ditch the milk, the added syrups, the whipped cream, the seasonal flavours (I'm looking at you Starbucks loving, Pumpkin Spiced Latte with extra whip).

This comes into play for the bigger picture of our nutritional intake - these added extras are not only calorie-dense, but are also loaded with sugar and dairy products, which can lead to the increase of sugar related illness and insulin resistance.

Additionally, if you are the type to reach for a supersized caramel latte on the daily, the question to ask is "do you even want the coffee, or you addicted to the sugar in the milk & syrups?" This is something I went through myself recently - no, I rise above the flavoured milk with a dash of coffee, as I said, Aussie Coffee Snob- but I do love a perfect Flat White. When addressing my coffee intake, I realised often I was additionally craving the sugar from the milk, which in turn was leading to bloating and digestive discomfort. Once I swapped to a Long Black, sometimes with a dash of hot milk, I was able to reduce the cravings for the warm, frothy milk and saw an immediate change in my digestion as well as how often I found I truly wanted an espresso throughout the day.

Additionally, you can swap the dairy for a non-dairy option such as Almond or Oat Mylks. I personally do not recommended Soy due to the Estrogen content.

4. Use as a pre-workout

Due to its impact on the nervous system, coffee is the perfect pre-workout solution. With no added preservatives or nasties, you can boost your energy and mental focus to help you move through a workout, whilst maybe even getting some of those fat-loss benefits too!

5. Swap it out

If you are completely overwhelmed by the thought of reducing your coffee intake, look for some substitutes which will help you along the way. Tea's can be a great option- either green or herbal options, as can the on-trend Matcha or Turmeric Almond Latte's. Alternatively, perhaps it is just a big glass of water that your body really is calling for!

6. Look at your overall Nutritional/Exercise/Sleep Profile

If you find yourself consistently reaching for the coffee it could be of benefit to examine your overall nutritional intake. exercise output and sleep patterns. Are you tired due to a lack of dietary intake of your Macro or Micro nutrients? Are you over-exercising and not replenishing the body with the required fuel? Have you not slept more than 4 hours a night?

Addressing these areas first could demonstrate you need to nourish the body with good quality food first, or slightly change your exercise patterns and place sleep & recovery as a priority. Often this can be quite intuitive, your body tends to know what it needs, but it may be of benefit to speak to a Nutritionist, Naturopath or Alternative Therapist if you need guidance on these issues.

So a little bit of coffee time reading for you all. For now though, I'm going to finish my cup of coffee and enjoy every single sip.

Rosie xx

1. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-3010.2007.00665.x/full

2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20164566

3. http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/4-harmful-effects-of-caffeine/

4. http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2015/09/how-coffee-loves-us-back/

5. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10068-010-0151-6