Nothing seems to get people as riled up as the question of their coffee consumption. When I talk to moms about incorporating healthier habits into their routine, this is one of the things that they get most defensive about. “You will pry my cup of joe from my cold, dead hands” seems to be a common sentiment. And this is even before I utter a single word about coffee!
The fact that some people jump the gun on this suggests that there is a perception out there that coffee is not good for us. But is that really true? Like many good questions about nutrition and health, the answer to whether coffee is beneficial or not depends on the individual context and is not as black and white as you might think.
Coffee has a fascinating history and its consumption is thought to have originated in Ethiopia in the tenth century. It subsequently spread to the Arabian peninsula, the Middle East, Europe and finally the New World in the 17th century. As a plant drug, its use was tolerated and even encouraged owing to its stimulating properties (hey, it was good for business!). So if we fast forward to today how does the modern-day consumption of this traditional beverage square with our current health preoccupations?
You may be surprised to learn that coffee has actually been correlated in many studies to a lowered risk for many chronic diseases. Of course correlation does not mean causation but it is also true that coffee is rich in antioxidants and has a modest amount of vitamins and minerals. The stimulating effect of caffeine is also known to enhance exercise performance and mental acuity in certain contexts.
But whether coffee is good for you may depend on a host of factors including where you are currently in life:
INDIVIDUAL COFFEE METABOLISM
First there is the question of how you as an individual metabolize coffee. What do I mean by this? You have surely noticed those who can handle caffeine in wildly different ways than you. Some of us don’t dream of having a cup after lunch lest it disturb our sleep, while some don’t think anything of an after-dinner espresso and can proceed to doze off effortlessly. The explanation lies in our genetic differences in caffeine metabolism. Some people are slow metabolizers, meaning the caffeine from the coffee stays in their system for a long while, whereas others dispose of it quickly with no ill effects from the stimulation. For the slow metabolizers, the purported benefits of coffee may be limited as well.
Chances are, when it comes to your individual handling of caffeine, you already know which camp you’re in!
YOUR OVERALL HEALTH AND WELL-BEING
Then there’s the question of your general well-being and nutritional status. If you’re the kind of person who has only has a “coffee breakfast” but are then ravenous before lunch or have a mid-afternoon slump (which, surprise, requires more caffeine and perhaps sugar), if you often get that “tired and wired” feeling, tend to suffer from anxiety or insomnia, or get a headache if you skip your cup, you may want to reconsider your daily habit. These may be signs of poor blood sugar handling and general depletion, and that you’re using caffeine as a crutch. The problem with this approach is that you’re constantly taxing your reserves and running the risk of exhausting yourself even more thoroughly if you don’t address the underlying causes of your situation. Sadly, many exhausted moms fall into this category!
If on the other hand you cherish your hot cup of java in the morning as much for the ritual and the pleasure of it as the stimulation it provides, you have stable energy levels throughout the day, can easily go without a few days with no physical consequences, then by all means enjoy yourself without fretting too much about it!
THE QUALITY OF YOUR COFFEE — OH AND BY THE WAY, WHAT ELSE ARE YOU PUTTING IN THAT CUP??
Something else to keep in mind is that the quality of your beverage matters. For my daily cup, I prefer buying whole organic coffee beans and grinding them before each preparation. That way the coffee stays fresh longer. Also watch for what else you put into your cup – a coffee that is full of sugar and UHT cream or (horror of horrors!) artificial creamer is not the same thing as black coffee or one with a dollop of high-quality cream or milk. And I have a feeling that part of the “bad reputation” of coffee is really about what else people include with it.
HOW ABOUT DECAF?
Some people choose decaf in hopes of still enjoying the taste without the ill effects. Many pregnant women or those famous “slow oxidizers” fall into this category. However beware: the conventional process of decaffeination may introduce toxic chemicals into the coffee so make sure your decaf has been prepared using the Swiss water or CO2 methods, which you automatically get with organic. You could also opt for Arabica beans that are naturally lower in caffeine. For my part, I still enjoyed my one cup of coffee most days during my pregnancies.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The bottom line is, coffee can be an excellent ally for your health goals and part of a healthy lifestyle. However it can also cause more undue stress if you’re not already well-supported in other ways. So if coffee gives you pleasure and you can handle a moderate amount in your day, go for it and enjoy every aromatic drop. But if on the other hand you suffer from any of the issues mentioned earlier and you feel like “your life depends on it”, then that’s a sign to start paying attention to your body’s cues and perhaps taking a little break while engaging in some much-needed self-care.
As usual, the best approach is to arm yourself with knowledge, take stock of your current situation and go forth with some self-experimentation.
Aysin Karaduman is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who helps moms get back their groove through nourishing themselves with real food and adopting healthy habits. Follow her on Instagram (@theomnivorist & @instantpotmom) and Facebook.