Ahhh, I can practically smell it right now. Coffee has become more than a warm and comforting drink. It's one of the most widely consumed and readily available beverages all around the world. Let's talk about the health benefits and disadvantages surrounding its nutrition and effect on your health.
Coffee in Brief
The coffee bean can be transformed into a multitude of coffee and espresso-based beverages: latte, cappuccino, macchiato, americano, mocha, and a multitude of other hot or cold beverages. The world has clearly done extensive research and development on this tiny little bean. Let's briefly compare just a few types:
a. hot coffee: produced in several ways ranging from drip coffee, french press, percolator, pour over coffee and beyond. Each method produces a slightly different strength and flavour.
b. iced coffee: hot brewed coffee that has been cooled down. This is most common way to prepare iced-coffee. Because it's often served over ice, it can have a more watered-down body and flavour.
c. cold brew: this method has become a popular trend. It is brewed cold, which impacts its flavour by making it more robust and less bitter versus iced coffee. In addition, it contains significantly higher levels of caffeine compared to iced coffee.
d. espresso: this uses the same beans but is produced in a different way, utilizing high pressure forces to create an extremely concentrated, bold shot of espresso. It generally has a more full and bold flavour compared to coffee.
Caffeine is a naturally occurring psychoactive stimulant. It is found in a variety of plants such as coffee beans, cocoa beans, tea leaves and yerba mate. Caffeine excites the central nervous system and temporarily reduces fatigue, and improve alertness.
When it comes to the roast, depending on how coffee is measured - scooped or weighed - there will likely be only a minimal variance between the level of caffeine between a light roast vs. a dark roast. Enjoy the variety you like!
Hidden sources: For the record, coffee isn't the only food item that contains caffeine. It can also be found in chocolate, teas (especially black), energy drinks, colas and some medications (especially those promoting wakefulness).
Here are the recommendation limits (source) :
+ Men and Women 19+ : stay below 400mg/day
+ Pregnant or Breastfeeding women : stay below 300mg/day
How much caffeine is in 1 cup (250 mL)...
Brewed coffee: 100-150mg
Instant coffee: 75-105mg
Iced coffee: 60-80mg
Decaf coffee: 3-15mg (still contains some!)
Black tea: 45-80mg
Green/oolong/white tea: 25-45mg
Energy drink: 80-100mg
How much caffeine is in...
Espresso, 1 oz (30mL): 65-90,
Cola, 1 can (355mL): 30mg
Dark chocolate, 1 bar (40g): 27,g
Let's translate this into the cup sizes at one of most popular coffee shops - Starbucks.
+ a tall (350mL) coffee can contain 140-210mg
+ a grande (470 mL) coffee can contain 200-285mg
+ a venti (590 mL) coffee can contain 240-355mg
Effect on Vitamin & Mineral Absorption
Many caffeinated beverages including some teas, coffee, espresso and energy drinks can contribute to a lower rate of absorption of certain vitamins and minerals. Here are some examples:
Iron + zinc: coffee contains tannins (as does tea and wine), which can inhibit the absorption of iron and zinc if consumed within the same hour. Learn more about iron in this PUL article.
Calcium: if you consume large quantities of coffee each day, it may interfere with your calcium absorption and may lead to increased calcium excretion. Caffeine has been associated with reduced bone mass and increased fracture risk. This, however, is only an issue if your overall calcium intake is low. You can offset this effect by ensuring you consume your recommended intake each day. Learn more about calcium in this PUL article.
Suggestion: Coffee is commonly consumed in the morning, as are multivitamins. If you usually take any of the above supplements or a multivitamin, consider waiting 30 minutes to 1 hour after your drink to take them.
Coffee & Cardiovascular Disease
Moderate and consistent consumption of coffee was associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Oddly enough, the lowest CVD risk was at 3-5 cups of coffee each day, which is more than some people drink in a day! There is still much research to be done surrounding this topic, and this is by no means to suggest drinking so much coffee; we still advise moderate consumption.
Coffee & Memory
Caffeine intake appears to improve memory performance in certain situations. It has been shown to have cognitive enhancing functions at moderate intake levels. It does this indirectly, through action on arousal, mood and concentration. This makes sense considering the main reason people consume coffee is for its stimulating effects before work or school.
Other Potential Health Effects of coffee
On the one hand, coffee is associated with a probable decreased risk in certain types of cancers (including breast, colorectal, and prostate), type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and Parkinson's disease. Coffee is also, on the other hand, associated with an increased risk of pregnant loss, increased levels of serum cholesterol, and insomnia.
All of these findings show that research is still incredibly inconsistent and inconclusive.
Coffee can be beneficial for one type of ailment, and can be adverse for another. It's best to be critical of every article and statement you come across with regards to nutrition. Under what circumstances was the study conducted? For which population? In what doses and frequencies? These factors can affect the final result.
Did You Know?: Contrary to popular belief, coffee (and other caffeinated beverages) do not dehydrate us. Coffee is a diuretic, yes, but but drinking coffee doesn't cause us to lose water above and beyond the water we drank in that brewed cup. This is especially so if we consistently consume it and have adapted to its effects.
Trying to Cut Back?
If you feel you've become too dependent on caffeinated beverages or are consuming above the recommended limits and would like to cut back, here are some tips:
1. Do it gradually: caffeine withdrawal is a legitimate outcome that can result in those consuming even just one cup a day. Symptoms may include headache, fatigue, and inability to concentrate.
2. Prioritize: as mentioned, caffeine is present in many other drinks aside from coffee. Prioritize the one category at a time to decrease or eliminate, such as sodas or energy drinks; these beverages tend to also be extremely high in sugar and are known to have other adverse health effects as well.
3. Half n' half: try mixing your regular coffee with decaffeinated coffee. You can start with 80% caffeinated coffee + 20% decaffeinated, then decrease to 50/50, and so on until you reach a ratio you're content with. Most coffee shops are also really accommodating to creating this combination for you.
4. Use plant-based milk: Opt for lattes or cappuccinos (many shops now serve plant-based milks). In this way, at least you're getting some extra nutrients in your regular cup of coffee, and sometimes the amount of caffeine served is lower.
5. Brew time: the longer you brew your coffee (and tea!), the more caffeine will be extracted. If you want less caffeine, try brewing for a shorter time.
6. Drink water: sometimes feeling fatigued and cloudy can simply be a sign of dehydration. Before you jump to have another coffee, drink a large glass or two of water and see how you feel.
Summary: The Health Benefits
Can produce temporary reduction of fatigue and enhanced alertness
Associated with a potential decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and Parkinson's disease
Generally considered a part of a healthy diet if consuming under the maximum recommended intake
Summary: The Health Disadvantages
Potential inhibiting effect for the absorption of some vitamins and minerals such as iron and calcium
Can become dependant on it, leading to withdrawal symptoms
Associated with a rise of serum cholesterol and blood pressure
Can be expensive to purchase every day
Reminder: Correlation does not equal causation! This means that just because caffeine is associated with an increased or decreased risk of (disease/illness), does not imply it is the cause of them or that these effects are sure to occur. This distinction is important.
For some people coffee can increase anxiety or cause stomach or intestinal upset. It's always important to listen to your body, and remember there's always decaf coffee if you enjoy the smell and taste! Listening to your body
A note on Conscious Consumption
We recommend purchasing fair-trade and organic coffee , whenever possible, to support healthful labour practices for growers. It also usually means a higher quality bean is produced, so win-win if you ask us!
Want to Learn More?
Read this previous nutrition article called Iron on a Plant-Based Diet » Sources & How to Get Enough
What about you?
Are you a coffee enthusiast, or is it just not your thing? Let us know in the comment below or share on Instagram with the hashtag #pickuplimes.
❤ Written by: Mitra (Executive Assistant and Dietetic Student) and Sadia