I never was a big coffee drinker. And then I went to college. While I didn’t down 10 cups a day (like some of my friends!), I did start drinking a cup or two every afternoon just to “keep going.” Then I married a man who appreciates a really good cup of joe. He started making me coffee, and suddenly I loved coffee. Again, I don’t think it ever became a true addiction, but it certainly did become a routine part of my day-to-day life.
I’ve never really given it up, although I only have a few cups a week now. If it had more proven, deleterious effects on my health, I’d probably stop altogether. But the truth is, the research on coffee is quite mixed. Some studies are downright positive in their findings.
Want to know whether or not coffee is good for you? So did I.
The Health Benefits of Coffee
From time to time, I’d read about or hear of some way in which coffee is actually *good* for us. Obviously, straight coffee is fairly good at helping flush out your liver. That’s why people drink it when they have a hangover, or why people on detox diets use coffee enemas. But even that benefit seemed minimal when you consider that Starbucks and McDonald’s make their money selling you ramped-up coffee full of sugary syrups, artificial flavors, and non-dairy creamer. Drinking coffee in this “usual way” surely negated these supposed benefits, right?
So, I had to ask myself: What hard science is out there supporting coffee? You might just be surprised. I found numerous studies indicating that coffee consumption confers a lot of health benefits:
- a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, Dementia, & Parkinson’s (Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
- a reduced risk of developing gallstones (source)
- a reduced risk of developing Diabetes Type II (source)
- a reduced risk of Gout (source)
It’s also a well-known laxative (which has come in handy during my three pregnancies!).
The Health Risks of Coffee
If it’s so wonderfully good for you, why do organizations like the Weston A. Price Foundation recommend we don’t drink it?
First, coffee irritates and damages the lining of the gastro-intestinal organs. (source) You remember how important the Gut is for good health? How most of our immune and nervous systems are at home in our guts? Given that, it’s easy to see how drinking coffee counteracts all that cultivating of healthy gut linings and intestinal flora that we Real Foodies are supposed to be doing while eating our yogurt, naturally-fermented sauerkraut & pickle relish, or drinking our kombucha, naturally-fermented lemonade, or nourishing bone broth.
And finally, coffee as a beverage has only been around for 600 years, and wasn’t really widespread until the last century. (source) While that’s somewhat traditional and certainly not what I would call “industrialized” (particularly if you’re drinking *good* shade-grown, fair-traded coffee grown according to traditional principles), it’s still relatively new on the human dietary scene and should give us pause.
So, Should You Drink Coffee?
If you’re suffering from any gastrointestinal problems (IBS, gluten intolerance, etc.), the answer is definitely no. If you’re suffering from adrenal fatigue and trying to recover, the answer is definitely no. If, however, you’re like me and in good health, then I don’t think a cup every now and then will hurt you.
Personally, I’ve been cutting back on my coffee and experimenting with a few alternatives. The first is a tea Ann Marie raved about a while back called Dandy Blend which is based on dandelion root. I really like the flavor of dandelion root tea, and this blends it with chicory and a few other herbs to produce a non-stimulating coffee substitute. The second is something a friend recommended that comes “flavored” like many of those gourmet coffee blends (think: vanilla nut, almond amaretto, hazelnut, and mocha). It’s an organic herbal coffee substitute called Teecino, and it brews up just like coffee in your french press. On top of that, the various flavors are all created naturally. Their ingredient list is very forthcoming, including many organic fruits, nuts, carob pods, and more.
How about you? Where have you drawn the line for coffee in your household? And more importantly, why?
ETA: I wrote this in the comments below, and I thought it may benefit those readers who skip over the comments. I think it’s safe to say that coffee is NOT a health food, even if it may actually confer the benefits that the studies claim it does. That’s because coffee’s not particularly nutrient-dense, and you can get those same positive health effects from other foods which actually are nutrient-dense. Furthermore, if you are using coffee for energy, it’s because your body is nutrient starved. So why not actually feed it the nutrient-dense foods it wants, instead of pumping it full of caffeine to keep going?
P.S. Ann Marie at Cheeseslave just wrote a post about How To Quit Coffee, making a very similar point. Mostly, she argues that if you’re using coffee for energy (and let’s be honest, who among us isn’t?), it’s because you’re nutrient starved. She then relates her own success story of how she quit coffee by using amino acid supplements. Go check out her post here.
(photo by mumbaiphotographer)