Happy National Coffee Day!
It’s National Coffee Day, and much like any other day, 100 million American consumers will reach for a cup of coffee.
However, coffee has a long history of being blamed for many ills, from the humorous “It will stunt your growth” to the not-so-humorous claim that it causes heart disease and cancer.
A few semesters back, I had to chose a topic for a presentation I had to do for my psychology class. Me, being the only chemist in the class, decided to talk about the science and health benefits of coffee. When it was time to present, I started off by asking my classmates to raise their hand if they thought coffee was healthy… no one raised their hand. I was shocked. I thought maybe one person would agree, or maybe even the teacher for sure. But everyone looked at me like I was from another planet. Well, I proceeded with my presentation anyway, and I still think till this day none of those students believed anything I said.
Here’s why I believe coffee is extremely healthy:
1. Coffee doesn’t just keep you awake; it can make you smarter as well. The active ingredient in coffee is caffeine, which is a stimulant. Caffeine’s primary mechanism in the brain is blocking the effects of an inhibitory neurotransmitter called Adenosine. By blocking the inhibitory effectos of Adenosine, caffeine actually increases neuronal firing in the brain and the release of other neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine. So that means, caffeine can improve your mood, reaction time, memory, vigilance and general cognitive functions. There was a recent study in an article that I found a few months back, where an 8 oz. cup of coffee a day helped decrease the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. A cup of coffee can protect the brain in old age? Amazing! In prospective studies, coffee drinkers have up to 60% lower risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Article can be found here. Parkinson’s is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder, characterized by death of dopamine-generating neurons in the brain. Coffee can even lower the risk of Parkinson’s by 32-60%!
2. Caffeine, partly due to its stimulant effect on the central nervous system, both raises metabolism and increases the oxidation of fatty acids. Caffeine raises the metabolic rate and helps to mobilize fatty acids from the fat tissues as well as enhance physical performance. Why do you think in most commercial fat burning supplements caffeine is the number one ingredient?
3. Type II diabeties is a lifestyle-related disease that has reached epidemic proportions, having increased 10-fold in a few decades and now afflicting about 300 million people. High blood glucose levels due to insulin resistance or inability to produce insulin characterizes this disease. Where coffee can increase blood flow throughout the body and help distribute and increase the amount of insulin that the body can produce. Therefore, the more coffee you drink, the lower the risk of diabetes.
4. Coffee isn’t just black water. Many of the nutrients in the coffee beans do make it into the final drink, which actually contains a decent amount of vitamins and minerals. Coffee also contains a massive amount of antioxidants. In fact, coffee is the biggest source of antioxidants in the western diet, outranking both fruits and vegetables combined. Therefore, it is also good for your liver because it is an antioxidant; coffee can help detox the liver and get rid of the harsh substances that make up most our diets.
Even though coffee in moderate amounts is good for you, drinking way too much of it can still be harmful. NOTE* To make sure to preserve the health benefits, don’t put sugar or anything nasty in your coffee. Yes, I am talking about those froo froo drinks from your local coffee shop. Those are lattes! Not coffee. To reap the most benefits, drink your coffee BLACK. Resist the urge to mask your coffee with high calorie sugars and creams. If it tends to affect your sleep, then don’t drink it after 2 PM (I can’t even drink coffee after 11AM).
Also keep in mind that, if you do add sugar and cream to your coffee, you will increase the half-life decay of caffeine in your system. What does that mean? Sucrose has the tendency to outweigh the caffeine in your drink so that means you will be on a sugar rush. When that sugar rush is over, you will crash, much like you do when you consume an energy drink. A caffeine rush alone lasts a lot longer than a sugar rush. Why? The half-life of caffeine is about 8 hours (that means the caffeine will be in your system for about 8 hours), where sucrose (sugar) is 3-6 hours depending on how your body processes sugar (Your body does not distinguish between natural sugars and processed sugars, does not matter if it’s Stevia, Splenda, Sweet and Low or honey, your body thinks it’s all the same). When two chemicals are mixed together, the caffeine is not pure anymore, thus decreasing the amount that the caffeine can stay in your system. Hence, the sugar crash.
I could go further into this, but I don’t want to scare any of you away. Sorry for my mini tangent 🙂
At the end of the day, more research has been exhibiting that coffee is NOT the villain it was made out to be. It is quite clear that coffee is indeed a very healthy beverage that should be incorporated in your every day diet routine.