If you’re like most North Americans, you’re probably confused and frustrated with the non-stop conflicting messages from “experts” regarding how the products we eat and drink affect our health. It seems one day something is good for us and the next day it’s bad. I often hear people say “everything in moderation”, unfortunately these very people have no idea what moderation means in practical terms. For example, they’re the ones that figure if one glass of wine is good, the whole bottle must be great!
Well no other product is more confusing than the beverage most North Americans use every morning to get them going. Can you say Tim Horton’s or Starbucks? Of course I’m referring to Coffee. In this post, I hope to set the confusing record straight.
As a general rule, because coffee contains caffeine, which is the most used drug in North America and is addictive, it is not perceived as a healthy supplement and is actually something that should be avoided. Yes, it's true that caffeine should be avoided by women who are pregnant because it's been shown to cause complications in pregnancy. For example, one 2008 study found that just two cups of coffee ingested during pregnancy may be enough to affect fetal heart development and reduce heart function over the entire lifespan of the child.
Also, if you’re one of those people that require a hit of caffeine in coffee to get your butt moving in the morning, you’re probably masking the fact that your diet is low in vitamin B12. I always suggest to my readers to deal with the root cause of your health problems and resist using drugs to mask the problem.
That said there appears to be instances where coffee may be of therapeutic benefit.
Selecting Quality Coffee is Key
Many of the warnings against the use of caffeine are well-warranted, because in and of itself it can be quite toxic. However, like so many other natural topics, when it comes to the whole food, in this case the coffee bean as opposed to the isolated caffeine, the converse is true.
Before we get carried away thinking coffee is good for you, I need to interject here as this is of particular concern for me because most coffee produced today is heavily contaminated with pesticides. It's actually one of the most heavily sprayed crops in this world, with the exception of corn and soy, which are also bad for you. So, when we speak of coffee here, let me be perfectly clear that I’m talking about organic, pesticide-free coffee. Not the stuff you find in the middle aisles of the grocery store. Other issues that can come to bear on the end health effects of the coffee are the way it's dried and roasted.
Basically, if you have a quality coffee bean, even the roasted one, you get multiple nutrients and flavonoid antioxidants. You can detect the quality of the coffee by taste and smell...rancidity can be detected immediately. A coffee that doesn't have a good aroma or taste is most likely stale and possesses no health benefits.
Coffee that is labeled and marketed as an organic must abide by high standards for organic coffee production. To qualify, the crop must have been grown using at least 95 percent organic fertilizers and without the use of chemical pesticides for at least three consecutive years. The regulations also specify crop rotation methods must be used to protect the soil from erosion, and the beans may not be irradiated.
Another important caveat, is to drink your coffee black, without sugar or milk. Adding sugar and you'll certainly ruin any of the benefits I’ll be discussing below by overspiking your insulin and causing insulin resistance.
But first, let's take a look at the potential risks, and why coffee has received such a bad rap.
The Health Risks of Caffeine
A major "con" is that most coffee available today is rancid and packed from ground beans that cannot survive even a week before becoming stale. This is because the rate of rancidity increases dramatically once you grind the beans. So much of the bagged coffee you find in your grocery store is an already degraded product with rancid oils inside.
All that will give you is the caffeine. It won't provide you with healthful nutritional co-factors. So one of the first principles in using coffee is to grind the coffee beans of your choice fresh, making sure they are organic and pesticide free. Like all food products, learn to read the labels.
Caffeine can cause a process in your brain called glutamate re-uptake inhibition. It actually inhibits the cellular re-uptake of glutamate, which is an “excitoneurotransmitter” essential for keeping you alert and ready for action. Like other neurotransmitters, glutamate must be tightly regulated. Your body has a mechanism that reabsorbs glutamate from the intracellular matrix back into the cell.
Coffee inhibits this glutamate reabsorption. And when caffeine intake is too high and chronic, it can cause glutamate excitotoxicity. Glutamate excitotoxicity is also caused by MSG. MSG, when consumed, creates glutamate toxicity, which causes brain cells' mitochondria to literally pop inside out…glutamate toxicity rapidly accelerates brain cell death...
But let's not panic. This is true only when MSG or caffeine intake is chronically high. If too much caffeine is being chronically absorbed, there is a high likelihood that similar to MSG, it could cause glutamate toxicity and related damage in certain areas of your brain.
Coffee-Induced Acidity—Is that Good or Bad?
Another reason why coffee has gained a bad reputation is because it's an acid forming substance. But some acid forming foods are essential to your health. They provide benefits that should not be overlooked.
Acidity is a major problem and anything that chronically acidifies your body can cause metabolic acidosis, a condition which has catastrophic affects on the body to say the least. When your body becomes overly acidic, due to an acid forming diet, you set yourself up to a total metabolic shutdown. Over acidification of your body wastes your muscle and bones, and as the level of acid rises, cellular congestion occurs along with increased vulnerability to degenerative disease. Basically, when your body is acidic, you're falling apart…
So there was good reason to believe that all acid foods may cause metabolic disorders and disease including cancer. The two things that all cancers thrive on are acid and sugar. So you should avoid having too much acid and certainly avoid sugar. That's what the logic says.
But in real life, not all acid foods are bad...In fact some of the most beneficial foods are acid forming. These include protein foods and plant based antioxidants such as alagic acid, which is found in high quantities in the berries like Blueberries, Blackberries, Elderberries and used in the product YouthJuice, which I take daily.
So what do you need to do to make an informed decision?
First of all, eat whole foods. Do not ever eat protein isolate, unless it’s in the presence of alkalizing minerals, because protein isolate doesn't have the alkalizing co-factors that are needed to balance the acidity of the protein. This means that you should be mindful how you consume whey isolate, hemp isolate, or soy isolate for this reason. These are all extremely acidifying and if you keep using them in large amounts unbalanced by alkalizing foods, you risk metabolic acidosis. I know this for a fact, as I noticed my daily acidity levels increase when I introduced Whey Protein Isolate into my diet.
Once you start to increase your intake of protein, you've got to support it with plant food. Virtually all plant foods are alkalizing… If you support protein intake with a high intake of fruits and vegetables and good selection of nuts like raw unpasteurized almonds for instance, you can’t go wrong.
The same rule applies to coffee!
If you drink coffee, just make sure your intake of raw fruits or vegetables is also enough. Essentially, a good diet is a balanced diet that includes all the major building blocks—fats, proteins and carbs—acidic and alkalizing foods must be balanced! Remember the goal for optimal health is to have an internal system that’s slightly alkaline.
What Makes Caffeine Healthy?
Natural sources of caffeine include tea, coffee, and chocolate. These whole caffeinated foods are beneficial.
Every time you get naturally occurring caffeine, such as in cocoa beans, coffee or tea, you get it from a nutritionally dense healthy whole food. And note that when you use the same food in a decaffeinated form such as decaffeinated coffee, or decaffeinated tea, you ingest "nutritionally deficient inferior" foods. A tea without caffeine is useless. It loses all the antioxidant bioflavonoids in the processing. Same with decaffeinated coffee…it has zero nutritional value.
Research has shown that both whole cocoa beans and coffee have remarkable neuroprotective properties. There is emerging evidence that South American societies who drink freshly ground coffee from whole coffee beans have the lowest rates of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease."
Caffeine May Also Help Rejuvenate Your Muscle
Interestingly, coffee also expresses itself in your muscles. It does this by supporting the neuromotor, which is the most critical element in your muscle. Without the neuromotor, your muscle is like an engine without ignition… Neuromotor degradation is part of the process that explains age-related muscle atrophy. So in this respect caffeine may also help keep your muscle tissue young.
Other Health Benefits of Coffee
Coffee increases your metabolism by up to 20 percent and triggers mechanisms that rejuvenate your muscle tissue. Coffee can actually be quite beneficial if consumed before exercise.
Coffee before training allows you fast energy to initiate your workout. For people who train in the morning, having coffee before training is a great advantage. Although I never drink coffee, many of my cycling friends would never think of doing an early morning ride without their hit of “Espresso”.
However, you do want to be careful and moderate in the amounts you drink. Coffee is a potent substance, and can affect your adrenal glands. So if you have an issue with decreased adrenal function, use care with coffee. As stated earlier, it also increases the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate.
Again, your body can handle this if it's whole, fresh, organic coffee, because it doesn't hit your system the way synthetic caffeine does. But you don't want to abuse it. Also remember we're talking about black coffee—no sugar added.
Researchers also seem to agree that having just one cup of coffee, or one shot of espresso in the morning, or before training, is all you should have for the whole day. If you exercise in the morning, have your coffee prior to your workout, never after.
Coffee Can Reduce Post-Workout Muscle Soreness
According to a study published in the March 2007 issue of The Journal of Pain, consuming a cup of coffee an hour before training can help reduce post-workout muscle soreness by up to 48 percent. To put this into perspective, studies using naproxen (Aleve) only achieved a 30 percent decrease in post-workout muscle soreness, and aspirin produced a 25 percent decrease.
The authors stated: "A lot of times what people use for muscle pain is aspirin or ibuprofen, but caffeine seems to work better than those drugs.
Why Drinking Coffee After Exercise is NOT Recommended?
When used before exercise, coffee will give you a good boost. However, it affects your muscles similarly to exercise itself. It increases the energy expenditure by your muscle while inhibiting the “mTOR”; the mechanism that increases protein synthesis in your muscle.
What that means is that coffee, similar to exercise, actually inhibits the inherent mechanism that builds your muscle. (You do not build muscle while exercising. Muscle building occurs during recovery).
The mTOR cannot be activated when you drink coffee. When you drink coffee before exercise, the mTOR is going to be inhibited by exercise anyway, but this inhibition is not a regular inhibition… Fasting, exercise and coffee inhibit mTOR in a way that can be compared to a spring being compressed in a closed box.… It's a bit tricky, but exercise inhibits and stimulates mTOR at the same time. So when exercise and coffee inhibit the mTOR, as soon as you stop exercising, mTOR kicks back in with a vengeance. And when you eat a recovery meal after exercise, your muscle is biologically most prepared to accept protein and gain muscle.
That's why the timing of coffee is very important. Before exercising, coffee will work with the exercise itself. It really inhibits the mTOR but at the same time, it stimulates energy production and fat burning. After exercise, it's the wrong time for having coffee—that's the time for a recovery meal, a good quality whey protein will do."
Can Coffee Help Cut Sugar Addiction?
Maybe…The reason why you get addicted to a food (any food really) but particularly sugar, is because your brain has opioid receptors. They're part of a primordial reward system that helps you detect, select and enjoy eating fresh foods over rancid ones.
Today, however, we live in a world of plenty, surrounded by processed foods that are typically loaded with sugar. Unfortunately, this has led our addictive opioid receptors—which primarily helped us select appropriate foods—to become addicted to the wrong foods. Interestingly, sugar binds to the same addictive receptors as cocaine and other addictive drugs.
Now, there are a few compounds called opioid receptor antagonists. That means once they occupy the receptors, they prohibit you from being addicted to something else. And coffee is an opioid receptor antagonist. Caffeine can bind to your opioid receptors and may attenuate the addictive impact of another substance.
If you are addicted to sugar and many people are, and you really want to train your body gradually to get rid of this addiction, using coffee would be a viable way to help yourself achieve this. Train yourself to drink black coffee. Drink it sugarless on an empty stomach and you will see how, gradually, the cravings will dissipate...
So, all in all, it appears coffee may have some redeeming charateristics after all, particularly to boost the benefits of your morning workout, as long as you get high quality organic coffee, ground the beans yourself to make sure it's fresh, and avoid adding sugar.
I was concerned as I wrote this post that some people will only read what they want to hear. It’s human nature to only absorb the information that supports one’s own beliefs. I’m concerned many people reading this post will walk away unchanged and continue to drink the 3 -4 cups of junk food coffee a day, because I said there are some health benefits associated with this potentially toxic product and forget that this comes with some pretty strict rules. Please be mindful of the following important points:
- Only purchase organic coffee
- Don’t grind the beans until you actually plan on having your hit of “Joe”
- No more than one cup of coffee per day
- Drink your coffee black (no sugar or milk). That pretty much eliminates Tim’s and Starbucks.
- Lady’s…for the health of your unborn children…Don’t drink coffee if you’re pregnant
- Never drink coffee after you exercise
If you follow these rules, you will not only enjoy the healthy benefits associated with coffee, but you won’t be exposed to the strange looks from people when you say, “I don’t drink coffee”, like me.
Enjoy the Ride …. Rob