Here we are on National Coffee Day, a day with a surplus of coffee promotions at your various local venues. But there’s so much contradictory information out there on coffee that you may be hesitant to celebrate by using your “BOGO” coupon for a double dose of the good stuff. Consider me your personal investigator; sit back with your cup o’ Joe and allow me to give you my concise, research-based opinion.
There are so many pros, cons and myths regarding coffee and your health. Let’s debunk a few:
- Coffee aids in weight loss. It may be true that coffee boosts metabolism, which increases the burning of calories, but it’s more sensible to assess the amount of calories in your drink. Black coffee only has about 5 calories a cup; the calories I’m talking about are those that come from sugar, flavored syrups, milk and whatever else may go into your drink. You might be surprised to discover that your drink may not be aiding in weight loss at all — and, in fact, may be doing the polar opposite. Many of the fancy drinks at coffeehouses contain hundreds of calories — sometimes more than we consume at a meal. Be sure to check that your coffee drink isn’t setting you up for failure [and see suggestions at the end of this article.]
- Coffee is a great source of antioxidants. Antioxidants protect your cells against free radicals which cause damage and may play a role in diseases such as heart disease and cancer. And coffee is actually the number one source of antioxidants in our diet. Fruits and vegetables still take the win for being the richest source of antioxidants, but most of us get the majority from our coffee habit. The chart below clearly shows that coffee is our main source of antioxidants. Click on it to enlarge.
- Coffee is a diuretic. Coffee does have a diuretic effect, so if you think you’re making extra trips to the bathroom; it’s not just in your head. Since it dehydrates, my rule of thumb is to drink a cup of water for every cup of coffee, which, unfortunately, further adds to the bathroom effect. It’s a decision you have to come to terms with on your own. Personally, I have decided that for the sweet aroma and flavor of fresh brewed espresso, this is a sacrifice I’m willing to make.
- Coffee has a lot of caffeine. This is true. One cup of coffee contains 100-150 milligrams of caffeine, depending on its strength, which is double to triple the amount in a can of pop. Caffeine is another controversial subject, as too much caffeine can make us jittery, anxious, raise blood pressure and cause sleep problems. Know your body. Don’t overdo it. Stick to drinking coffee in the morning if you notice a disturbance in your sleeping patterns.
- Coffee has heart protective benefits, lowers risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, heart rhythm disturbances, depression, Parkinson’s, and may reduce headaches and migraines. A lot of research has gone into the effect of coffee on all of these areas and more. Although none of it is conclusive, it’s safe to say there is the potential that coffee drinking has many benefits. I’ve noticed that many of the health perks associated with drinking coffee are limited to those who drink multiple (5, 6, 8…!) cups per day. Unfortunately, excessive coffee drinking is also linked to most of the coffee’s downfalls. So, like most things, too much of a good thing is not necessarily a good thing. As a dietitian, I always think it’s safe to come back to the classic, “Everything in Moderation” mantra. For coffee, this means a couple to a few cups per day (unless you’re pregnant, in which case I wouldn’t suggest more than one cup a day.) All in all, I think it’s safe to say that the pros outweigh the cons. I wouldn’t bank on coffee curing any disease, but then again, most of us just drink it for enjoyment anyway (or to help us stay awake.) So, after all is said and done, raise your coffee mug in honor of today’s holiday — But for your own sake, don’t overdo it. :)
Take control of your coffee drink! These three small changes to your coffee drink can tremendously benefit your health.
- Drink it black. If you choose to add milk or creamer to your coffee, use this opportunity to get in a healthy fat, with heavy cream. I recommend keeping it as black as possible, by just adding 1-2 Tablespoons of heavy whipping cream. Avoid the flavored creamers, which are usually loaded with hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats,) a.k.a. “metabolism killers.”
- Half pumps or stevia. Flavored syrups can contain around 100 calories of pure sugar per pump, and the sugar-free syrups are loaded with chemicals that interfere with your metabolism. Sweeten your coffee with Stevia, the only natural non-chemical sweetener, or cut back on the amount of syrup in your drink. Most coffeehouses are familiar with the term “half-pumps,” and your waistline will thank you for this. I like to keep a small zip-loc baggie of chocolate Dynamic Greens with me, for quick added flavor, sweetness, and antioxidants. If you don’t have Stevia on hand, I recommend using a pinch of sugar. A small amount of the real stuff trumps the fake stuff.
- Skip the whip. It’ll save you about 100 calories and 10 grams of unhealthy fat. Don’t fall for the non-fat whip trap that some coffee houses are now offering. It’s filled with chemicals and carbohydrates (to replace the fat.) Either stick with regular whip, or skip it altogether.