Coffee: My Best Worst Habit
Peak to Peak
Every morning I stumble in the dark into the kitchen, bump the light switch with my elbow, feel my way to the counter, fumble with the measuring spoons, curse at the impossible-to-get-just-one paper filters, fill the carafe with one eye half open, and hopefully not too much water, and in five minutes I’m defrosting my hands around a piping hot fresh-brewed cup of coffee.
Whatever your morning ritual, chances are it centers around coffee – regular, decaf, single, double, quad, latte, brevé, percolated, pressed, coarse, fine, instant, and everything in between. And, if coffee is the indispensable ingredient in getting your day started, chances are you’d be hard pressed to give it up. The good news is, you don’t have to.
Coffee gets a bad rep in our health-conscious world, but why? Maybe you’ve been told to quit coffee for health reasons, but for regular, moderate coffee consumption, the benefits may outweigh the risks.
The number one reason people successfully quit drinking coffee is heartburn. While coffee does not cause heartburn for everyone, it does increase the production of stomach acid. The number one reason doctors recommend abstinence (or cutting back) from coffee is hypertension, as caffeine is known to raise blood pressure. Other conditions to consider would be anxiety and insomnia, which may improve from limiting coffee consumption.
Now for the not-so-obvious good news: according to the Harvard School of Public Health, drinking coffee may reduce the risk of certain cancers, including breast, colon, and liver cancers. Regular consumption has been linked to improved management of Type II diabetes and to significant protection against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reports coffee will boost metabolism, increase good LDL cholesterol, and contains the antioxidants chlorogenic acid and melanoidins. Coffee’s diuretic properties reduce water retention on the one hand, but also leaches calcium from the body, leading to lower bone mass (although no significant correlation has been found between coffee consumption and osteoporosis). Fluid loss also contributes to dehydration which can become serious if you’re not replenishing with water.
If caffeine is the culprit of your coffee woes, you should know that the darker the roast, the less caffeine is actually in the brew – a shot of espresso has less caffeine than a cup of house coffee. Coffee does have more caffeine than any teas, including black, gunpowder green, and yerba mate. “Decaf” is a poor coffee bean that’s been roasted almost to death, and still contains small amounts of caffeine.
Even the bona-fide connoisseur may experience mild ill-effects from the habit, but before you toy with the idea of (gulp!) quitting, following these three simple rules will improve your enjoyment of and long-term benefit from the beloved bean:
• Choose ORGANIC. Most commercial coffees are laden with synthetic pesticides which accumulate in the body and are highly toxic. Pesticide toxicity is linked with birth defects, nervous, reproductive and endocrine disorders, cancers, Alzheimer’s and ADHD. The USDA requires coffee producers to exclude all synthetic chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones, in addition to meeting other requirements to be “Certified Organic.”
• FRESHNESS is key. As soon as the coffee bean is roasted, the oils on the surface begin to break down. The reason some coffees taste bitter or stale is because the oils have gone rancid (from prolonged exposure to oxygen after roasting) or because the pot has been sitting for too long.
One hour after the roasted and ground coffee has been brewed, the infusion begins to break down further, producing tartaric acid. The longer the pot sits, the higher the tartaric acid content, and the harder it is on the stomach. Try espresso or Americano style, which is brewed and consumed immediately.
• Don’t add SUGAR. If you have really fresh organic coffee you shouldn’t need to add anything else. The very best coffee should be mild, slightly sweet or smoky (depending on the roast) with a clean finish – and never bitter! Adding sugar compounds the health risks including diabetes and heart disease, and negates any benefit you may hope to obtain from a good brew.
Coffee IS addictive, but so is peanut butter…and anything else that makes you feel good. The symptoms of withdrawal are undesirable – headache, shakiness, fatigue, irritability – and can be mitigated by slowly tapering your daily dose, switching to decaf, or supplementing your caffeine cravings with chocolate or black tea…or just go ahead and have yourself another healthful cup!
“Here’s to Your Health!”