Wake up and smell the coffee! Far from being a danger to our health, recent research points to the welcome news that coffee is in fact one of the healthiest herbal drinks around.
Caffeine addicts around the world are rejoicing as their favourite herb has been shown to reduce the risk of cancers, cardiovascular disease, obesity, liver disease, depression and even gout.
How did we get it so wrong?
It isn’t the first piece of dietary advice that we’ve got wrong over the years. Saturated fat is now known to be an essential part of a healthy balanced diet, and the explosion of low-fat, high-sugar products on supermarket shelves may have single-handedly fuelled the global obesity crisis.
In the case of coffee, most of the early studies looking at its effect on cancer and heart disease involved cigarette smokers.
No-one thought to remove this confounding variable until February 2016, when a study did just that and found a clear relationship between coffee drinking and a reduced risk of dying from pretty much any cause(1). Hurrah!
How much should I drink?
Research suggests that the more you drink (up to four cups or two mugs a day), the lower your risk is of getting colorectal, breast, prostate, biliary, pancreatic, throat or lung cancer.
Slow metabolisers will need to be careful, and if you’re one of the after-dinner-espresso kind, remember: moderation is still king!
What is it about coffee that’s so good?
The potent antioxidants found in coffee are thought to reduce the risk of heart disease by protecting blood vessels against oxidation and inflammation.
One of these antioxidants, chlorogenic acid, encourages the metabolism of sugar and fat, possibly protecting against obesity, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes(2).
Coffee also activates the dopamine reward system of the brain, improving mood, and contains theobromine, a nervous system stimulant also found in chocolate that improves alertness and concentration.
It is also a naturally bitter substance, supporting the liver and having a healthy laxative effect on the bowels.
Is all coffee the same?
Unfortunately, milk and sugar virtually destroy the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and blood sugar-lowering effects of coffee. Black is best.
It is also important to distinguish coffee from caffeine. Caffeine mixed with sugar in energy drinks, or alcohol, is too stimulating and can be dangerous.
And of course, organic coffee is much better for you. Coffee is commercially grown on a massive scale and many water-soluble pesticides and fertilizers will end up in your cup. Aldi sells good organic coffee.
If you’re interested in the science behind eating organic, and want to know which foods are most important to buy organic, watch this space for next month’s article.
And the downsides?
For anxious, overstressed people, those who have trouble sleeping or high blood pressure, coffee might not be the panacea you’re looking for. Green tea is much better here – slightly stimulant with the added calming benefit of L-theanine and a wide range of beneficial antioxidants.
1. Lotfiled & Freedman (2016) Higher coffee consumption is associated with lower risk of all-cause and cause-specific mortality in three large prospective cohorts. Evid Based Med ebmed-2016-110399.
2. Johnston et al. (2003) Coffee acutely modifies gastrointestinal hormone secretion and glucose tolerance in humans: glycemic effects of chlorogenic acid and caffeine. Am J Clin Nutr 78(4):728-733.
By Poppy Burr
Poppy, BSc MCPP, is a qualified medical herbalist practising from Aljezur and Praia da Luz. To book a consultation, visit www.poppytheherbalist.com
or call on 969 091 683.