Coffee has been consumed by humans for hundreds of years with the origins thought to be in Yemen in the 15th Century. Today you can pretty much get a cup anywhere in the world, although how it is made and served varies greatly. An enormous mug of coffee with milk and a shot of syrup in America, a more elegant café au lait in France, a petite espresso in Italy, a strong muddy style Turkish or Greek coffee to a flat white in Australia… they all start with roasted coffee beans.
We certainly have a coffee culture here in Australia, but we are not in the top ten of countries for coffee consumption per capita. You might be a little surprised by who is. According to World Atlas the top ten are:
1. Finland 12kg per capita
2. Norway 9.9kg per capita
3. Iceland 9kg per capita
4. Denmark 8.7kg per capita
5. Netherlands 8.4kg per capita
6. Sweden 8.2kg per capita
7. Switzerland 7.9kg per capita
8. Belgium 6.8kg per capita
9. Luxembourg 6.5kg per capita
10. Canada 6.5kg per capita
Who’d have thought the Europeans, but not Italy, would dominate the top ten?! And Australia is not even in the top 25. So perhaps we don’t drink as much as we think we do.
The other perhaps slightly odd thing about coffee is that the top consuming countries are very different to the top producing countries. Top of that list goes to Brazil, followed by Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Honduras, India, Uganda, Mexico and Guatemala. Coffee is in fact the world’s second most traded commodity, only surpasses by oil. Isn’t that an incredible thought?
Coffee and health
Given how popular the drink is, there has long been an interest in what sort of effect it has on health. The common assumption is that it is not good for us and almost any ‘detox’ or ‘clean eating’ (both terms that are scientifically meaningless) diet almost always tells you to avoid it. But, is there any truth in that? Is coffee really bad for us?
Well the truth is for most of us coffee can actually deliver an array of health benefits. That shouldn’t really be all that surprising when we consider this is a drink made from a plant, just like tea or cocoa, both with known and accepted benefits.
Coffee contains caffeine and some of its sought aftereffects, like waking you up in the morning, come from this chemical. It also has a whole bunch of other plant compounds present including polyphenols (e.g. chlorogenic acids) known to be protective in the body, primarily as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. Those found in coffee are thought to help regulate blood glucose metabolism, protect against cancer development, protect the heart and liver, have a neuroprotective effect in the brain and lower the risk of diabetes.
Looking at the most recent studies and reviews coffee seems to be good for:
- Brain health – supports your brain performance, but also protects neurons lowering the risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases
- Heart health – 3-5 cups of coffee a day is associated with a 15% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
- Liver health – decreases inflammation of liver cells, reduces risk of fatty liver and liver cancer
- Glucose & insulin metabolism – reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes and improves insulin sensitivity
All good news for coffee lovers, but what about any detrimental effects?
Risks from coffee drinking
We all know coffee can have some unwanted side effects and they impact some more than others. Insomnia is probably the major one. Why someone at some point in time decided serving coffee after dinner was a good idea is beyond me! Unless you intend to stay up for several hours, that really isn’t a smart move.
That effect is due to the caffeine in the coffee and so a solution should you really want a cup in the evening is to drink decaffeinated coffee. The good news about that is that many of the health attributes of coffee apply to decaf too… those polyphenols are after all still present.
Some of us are much more impacted than others with regard to coffee and sleep. That is due to two factors: tolerance (how much coffee do you usually drink and therefore have become used to) and your genes.
Depending on the variant of the CYP1A2 gene you possess, will depict whether you are a fast or slow caffeine metaboliser. If you are the latter the caffeine you ingest with your cup of coffee will be your system for considerably longer and you are at a higher risk of having high blood pressure and having a heart attack if your caffeine intake is high.
How do you know? Short of having your genes tested, you might be able to guess by how coffee affects you. If you struggle to sleep at night having had a coffee in the afternoon, you are likely to be a slow caffeine metaboliser. You are best to stick to no more than 2 coffees a day, avoid coffee after lunchtime or choose decaf.
We also there is an increased risk for miscarriage with a high caffeine intake and so pregnant women are best to avoid coffee or choose decaf. Since caffeine can also transfer into breast milk, breast feeding mums are also best to avoid it.
Some people may also find that coffee induces heart burn or has other unwanted gut effects. You might find that you often go to the loo after drinking your morning coffee and that is because it does stimulate the gut to contract. That is probably a wanted effect for many in the morning! However, if you have irritable bowel disease or an upset stomach for whatever reason, drinking coffee may not be helpful.
Finally, there is an assumption that coffee can make you anxious, but the research really doesn’t hold up to the claim. There is generally a positive impact of coffee on the brain and certainly it may reduce depression. However, it is a central nervous system stimulant and therefore some people may find this doesn’t sit well with them.
Give it up or choose decaf if you are trying to get pregnant, are pregnant or breast feeding. If you know your sleep is impacted by drinking it, avoid it after lunchtime.
For those who do drink coffee, be careful what you put in it. Adding a shot of flavoured syrup in the coffee shop can add as much as 7 teaspoons of sugar in one hit! Coffee itself is free of kilojoules, but adding cream, milk, sugar and so on can all push the kilojoules
up, particularly if you have the large size cup.
Summing up, the bottom line is that if you love your coffee, you can relax and enjoy it. The reality is that your coffee is probably bringing you several health benefits. I love it when I can bring you good news :)
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