Coffee is a beverage with a host of elements that make it healthy, such as vitamins, minerals and a lot of antioxidants. We can’t study it according to its parts, but as a complete food.
There are numerous studies that confirm an improvement in cognition, mental processing speed, memory and sleep. Drinking coffee has not been shown to worsen our brain in the long term but rather seems to have a neuroprotective role in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease. It seems to be associated with reduction of some types of cancer, especially that of the colon and prostate, as well as liver and endometrium, and has been shown to reduce the occurrence of stroke and premature death, as well as overall cardiovascular risk and lower mortality from any cause.
Dr. Iván Moreno – Neolife Medical Team
In an appropriate dose, coffee has more benefits than risks.
One of the common questions in the doctor’s surgery is whether it is good to drink coffee or give it up altogether. The truth is that coffee has become a part of our lives, not only as part of our diet, but also as a way of giving ourselves “a boost”, as part of the culinary culture and as something that aids social connection.
Despite its importance in our culture, for years we’ve heard contradictory messages about whether coffee is beneficial or harmful and how much we should drink, to the point that I see patients who feel guilty about drinking a cup of coffee in the mornings.
In an appropriate dose, coffee has more benefits than risks. Let’s take a look at the main scientifically proven benefits and unravel what is true in terms of the risks attributed to it. And lastly we’ll discuss the different types of coffee depending on the roast and their different effects on health.
- Coffee has been drunk for many years because of the energizing effect it has on a mental level. The complex mechanism of action in our brain is becoming better understood, but put simply we could say that it inhibits some of the signs of fatigue and ensures that neuronal activity stimulants such as dopamine or glutamate are at a good level.
- There are numerous studies that confirm an improvement in cognition, mental processing speed, memory, sleep, etc.
- Patients sometimes ask me whether being more stimulated will make us feel “exhausted” or “worn out” more quickly. Drinking coffee has not been shown to worsen our brain in the long term but rather seems to have a neuroprotective role in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease.
- Coffee seems to be associated with a reduction of certain types of cancer , especially that of the colon and prostate, as well as the liver and endometrium.
- It has been shown to reduce the occurrence of stroke and premature death, as well as overall cardiovascular risk and lower mortality from any cause.
- There is a metabolic improvement that has been related to a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes and fatty liver.
- In addition, it has shown benefits in improving sports performance.
And the risks?
- Intolerance to caffeine. We need to differentiate between coffee intake and caffeine intake. And within coffee drinking there are also different ways of consuming it. Many of coffee’s side effects come from taking caffeine, and studies that have shown some risk were actually carried out with caffeine. Coffee is a beverage that has a host of elements that make it healthy, such as vitamins, minerals and many antioxidants. We can’t study it according to its parts, but as a complete food. That being said, there are people who do have caffeine intolerance or take drugs that react negatively with it, in which case, if they like to drink coffee, they can opt for decaffeinated coffee.
- Development of dependency. Our body learns to metabolize and eliminate caffeine more quickly, and over time also generates more signs of fatigue in the brain to try to overcome the blocking effect produced by caffeine. In a subtle but progressive way, there is indeed a certain tolerance and the need for more doses. The advice in this case is to abstain from time to time, so that our body doesn’t get used to coffee, and besides enjoying it, it continues giving us that boost we need. In this line, it is very important to discourage the chronic abusive consumption of coffee as a substitute for adequate rest. As we’ve already seen, the increasing tolerance will force us to up our doses and we can exceed the threshold from which it ceases to be beneficial. Everything done to excess is harmful.
- An increase in the level of stress. Coffee is a stimulant, and among other effects will increase the level of adrenaline. This can be beneficial from time to time and at mild doses, but consuming more than 4 cups of coffee a day, especially if they are of poor quality (discussed below), in a context involving stress and anxiety (so usual nowadays) won’t help us stay calm… nor aid mental focus, as we will see below.
- Difficulty in concentrating Coffee’s mild stimulus aids mental performance and accelerates reaction times, but coffee stimulates the brain in a general way, making it difficult to maintain the focus of our attention. The stimulus of caffeine is good for creative activities, group work, personal relationships, etc. where a greater connection of our different brain areas, memories, thoughts, etc. will prove helpful. However, if we drink coffee to improve studying or work involving a high level of concentration, we’ll notice this “general activation” of the brain in the form of constant interruptions of our attention on perceiving any noise or distraction to a greater extent, as memories, pending tasks, recurring ideas, etc. come into our heads.
- Digestive problems. Coffee also activates the intestinal neurons. Although the classic idea that it could cause cancer, ulcers or gastric reflux are a thing of the past, there are indeed those who tolerate coffee poorly on a digestive level, either due to cramps, heavy digestion or acidity after meals. If you feel discomfort it’s better not to drink it, but if we feel good, go ahead, there are no risks at this level.
How much coffee is recommendable?
Again, many of the studies have been done with caffeine, and it seems that a recommended dose is one of between 100-400mg of caffeine a day. A normal cup of coffee has about 100mg, but depending on the size or concentration this can change.
Long-term observational studies have shown that up to 5 cups of coffee per day are beneficial for health, with less development of dementia and other diseases. But it should be borne in mind that these are American studies, and the coffee there is lighter than our espressos.
Similarly, it’s good to know yourself. How your liver detoxifies, your genetics, your build and your percentage of body fat can make your tolerance to the doses different.
Symptoms of excess: Nervousness or palpitations are the most classic ones, but if we find it hard to sleep, we may have to restrict our coffee intake to the first half of the day. When we have a lot of stress in our daily life, there are those of us who feel that they should take 6 cups of coffees a day to be able to keep going. My advice in this case is to look at this belief again carefully. Maybe the excess coffee is causing us part of the feelings of anguish and stress overload, and losing concentration is making us less productive and more stressed.
Types of coffee
Coffee is obtained from the beans of the coffee plant. We are used to buying it pre-ground, which makes us lose sight of the important processing it undergoes before reaching our cup, and the importance of treating this product well during that process in order to preserve its benefits.
Coffee roasting is a delicate process, and one that is very reminiscent of the process for obtaining olive oil, but not the same as cold pressing, hot pressing, second pressing, etc.
In the case of coffee, roasting is one of the most delicate steps, and one that defines the final product we will consume, its taste, its caffeine and sugar content, and the amount of beneficial or harmful substances that we’ll drink in our cup.
There are several ways of roasting it:
- Torrefacto coffee – sugar (up to 15%) is added in the final roasting process, which is carried out at a higher temperature, giving it a layer of caramelization, and the beans look brighter and darker. When prepared in this way, many aromas are lost, which, in addition to making the experience worse, makes it possible to mask lower quality coffee. The coffee’s natural antioxidants also deteriorate and it is more indigestible. There are doubts as to whether, like other “burned” foods, it could cause cancer.
- Natural coffee – is a softer roast that does not cancel out the coffee’s natural flavor or its beneficial properties.
- Green coffee – directly unroasted, has less caffeine, a milder flavor and preserves more antioxidants, such as chlorogenic acid, which is lost in the roasting process and has shown health benefits ( on blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, and as a neuroprotector, etc.).
So, naturally roasted coffee is preferable, and if what we are looking for is a more natural coffee or being able to drink a few more cups in search of antioxidants without having to consume so much caffeine, green coffee is a good option.
There are already countries where torrefacto coffee is prohibited, and the recommendation is not to consume it.
How to drink it
As for which is the best and most delicious way to prepare it, the truth is that we live in one of the best countries in the world, and our rich culinary tradition also extends to the coffee culture. It’s not up to me to give my opinion on this matter, but some things do have to be taken into consideration:
- It’s better not to turn coffee into an excuse for repeatedly consuming sugar, regardless of whether it is refined white sugar, cane sugar or honey. It’s sugar (sucrose) all the same, it’s absorbed quickly and we need to limit its use.
- We shouldn’t overdo the use of sweeteners, although they don’t have the toxic profile that we sometimes read about on the internet. The truth is that it’s best to try to get used to less sweet flavors (drinking a milder coffee or adding cinnamon can help).
- Similarly, adding cream, unhealthy fats or alcohol will make the drink less healthy. (“Bulletproof” coffees with coconut oil or butter are a separate topic which we will talk about on another occasion).
- With regard to the doses and to sensible use… you have to enjoy coffee, but not be tied to it.
The benefits are many and the risks are few. If you don’t drink it because you don’t like it, I don’t recommend starting. But if you do (and not in excess), go ahead, coffee is not bad.
NOTE – I’d like to thank our friends at Café Raizal for making us aware of green coffee, the difference between torrefacto and natural coffee, and the bibliography on the subject.
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