“So what do you think about coffee?” This is a common question I get in my nutrition practice and at speaking engagements. My answer, “It depends.”
I think so often we want a simple “yes” or “no” to nutrition questions, but unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. If you find yourself reading a book or listening to a practitioner that states definitive answers to questions like these – run far away. There is so much more to the story. Nutrition and wellness aren’t a “one size fits all” kind of thing, unless we are talking about Twinkies – then, the answer is always no.
So let’s talk about some of the variables:
- caffeinated vs. decaffeinated
- type of processing
- health conditions
- organic vs. conventional
- flavored vs. regular
- coffee vs. dessert drinks
#1 & 2: Caffeinated vs. decaffeinated
We’ve heard about some of the benefits of caffeine, such as improved memory, mood, improved physical performance, weight loss, energy levels, reaction times and general cognitive function. As a nation, we love coffee, so it’s not hard to just focus on this side of the story. However, as you will see below, there are some individuals who may wish to avoid the extra caffeine.
Decaffeinated coffee still contains some of the benefits listed above as well as having anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. While you won’t get that rush of energy, you may still receive potential cardiovascular, blood sugar stabilizing, memory and cognitive enhancing benefits.
One thing to watch out for is the processing of the beans. Cheaper, decaffeinated coffee that you’d find in diners or at franchise coffee shops are probably chemically processed. Instead, choose a decaff coffee that uses a “swiss-water press” method to extract the caffeine. This is a non-chemical way to take the caffeine out.
And just a note, even though it says it is decaffeinated, it will still have a little bit of caffeine. Typically around 1-2% of the original caffeine content of the coffee, but some studies have shown that it can even been as high as 20%!
Action item: If you choose decaffeinated, just understand that drinking a pot of decaffeinated a day will likely add up in milligrams of caffeine. More is not better for health benefits. The benefits are usually maxed at around 2-3 cups/day.
#3 Health Conditions
Those who should reconsider caffeinated coffee:
- Women looking to get pregnant, who are pregnant, or are having infertility issues
- Individuals with adrenal fatigue
- Individuals who have consistently consumed greater than 3 cups a day – take a month break off of caffeine, then stick with 2 cups or less
- Individuals who have trouble falling asleep at night
- Individuals who have anxiety or are prone to high blood pressure
#4 Organic vs. conventional
Definitely choose organic here! If you occasionally hit up your local Starbucks or coffee shop, having non-organic coffee every now and then is no biggie, but just don’t make a habit out of it. Start supporting your local business that sell fair trade, organic coffee (if available) or start making your own clean coffee at home.
Why? Most coffee beans are heavily sprayed with pesticides! Drinking organic coffee may reduce or eliminate the exposure to toxic herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers.
Action item: Choose organic as much as possible!
#5 Flavored vs. regular
I used to LOVE flavored coffee. After all, they taste great and are virtually calorie free! (Not something I care about right now, but used to). Things that sound too good to be true – they probably are. Those amazing sounding blueberry or caramel flavored coffee are not natural. They likely don’t use “natural” blueberry and caramel flavors to infuse the beans. Most likely, the beans are infused with chemicals that taste like the desired flavors. The flavors are then added to the beans through the use of propylene glycol (used to de-ice airplanes) to hold everything together!
Action item: Stick with plain beans and add your own cinnamon, nutmeg, or vanilla to flavor.
#6 Coffee vs. dessert drinks
This one is fairly obvious. Pumpkin spice lattes and frappacinos hardly pass as coffee. If you notice yourself pouring sugar and creamer into your coffee, it’s likely not the coffee you like. It’s probably the caffeine and excuse to throw back some sugar.
Action item: If you need to put something in your coffee, stick with coconut milk (canned), organic heavy whipping cream from grass-fed cows, MCT oil, a cleaner creamer, or grass-fed butter (yes, I said butter).
So what should I drink?
- If you drink regular: look for fair-trade, organic coffee. I like BulletProof Executive coffee for regular and decaffeinated.
- If you drink decaffeinated: look for organic, swiss-water press
- If you want to avoid coffee altogether, but like the taste: try Dandy Blend (dandelion root tea)
- Other options: organic green tea or Tulsi tea also have lots of great health benefits!
Last bit of wisdom! Please try to choose unbleached coffee filters as well if you make coffee at home. The super white filters have likely been bleached with chlorine, which can be extracted during the brewing process.
Tell me about your relationship to coffee in the comments below! Have you ever tried eliminating it for a month or cutting back?