09 June 2010

Coffee: Busting myths all over the place

Coffee - the world's second most loved liquid (after water), and yet so misunderstood. For years, human kind has been plagued by myth and speculation alike, giving rise to the idea that coffee, while delicious, is ultimately bad for you.

Well, as you may have guessed, I decided it was high time to find out the truth behind the legend. General "wisdom" says red meat, carbs, and coconut oil are all a step away from killing you, but that's not necessarily true, so maybe they're wrong about coffee too.

Here are the Pros:

Research shows that coffee shows significant decreases in the risk for Type 2 Diabetes (even decaf), Parkinson's disease (most likely due to caffeine), colon cancer, liver cirrhosis, and gallstones.

Coffee is high in antioxidants. Antioxidants fight oxidation; oxidation can lead to pre-cancerous cells. Fun fact here, exercise actually can increase your body's antioxidants as well, and mixing coffee into your workout has actually been shown to help fight the damaging effects of the sun (sun releases free radicals, whic hcause oxidation - you with me on this?).But please, everything in moderation. Don't drink 2 cups of coffee and then go for a 10-mile run in the desert because, ta-da! you've got built in sunscreen... Doesn't really work that way kids.

Coffee can actually help increase your insulin sensitivity - this means your body's response to insulin is improved.

Studies done by Italian scientists have shown coffee contains a compound called trigonelline. Their data shows this compound may work as an anti-bacterial and anti-adhesive, helping to prevent new cavities in your teeth. Not bad, especially if you hate to floss (however, unproven, so maybe you should stick to floss after all).

In most studies, maximum benefits were achieved with "moderate consumption." I've seen that defined as 2+ cups, or even 3-5 cups per day. So when you go to Starbucks for your morning Venti Pike Place Roast with an extra shot... you may want to cut yourself off at that point.

Oh, did I mention it's DELICIOUS?

There are some downsides:

To be fair, caffeine is a drug. A stimulant in fact. Since caffeine acts on dopamine production in your brain, it can lead to addiction (I know, big shock to anyone who misses their morning cuppa and has a headache by the afternoon).

Some claim it can lead to increases in cholesterol.

It has been shown to contribute to heart disease in people with a very specific (and common) genetic mutation, which slows the breakdown of caffeine.

It can cause restlessness, irritability, can affect sleep (duh, that's why we drink it in the first place), and ladies, it CAN worsen PMS.

Some fun facts:

Apparently, there isn't a single study out there showing that children drinking a reasonable amount of coffee have shown any ill effects. In fact, according to WebMD, there was a study done in Brazil showing that kids who drank coffee with milk in the morning suffered less depression than children who didn't drink the bean juice. (Still looking for the study itself...)

Caffeine can help alleviate headaches - in fact, you will find the same amount of caffeine in one dose of Excedrin as you would find in an average cup of joe.

"They" say that coffee is a diuretic; even WeightWatchers advises not to count coffee toward your 8 glasses of water per day. Well, besides the fact that there is no evidence showing the purported benefits of 8 cups a day (including the claim that it help curb hunger - total BS in my experience), coffee's diuretic effect is so minimal that the amount of water you drink in a cup of coffee far exceeds the amount you lose.

According to MSNBC, one study published in 2007 shows that long term moderate use (3-5 cups) of coffee leads to better memory... in women. Sorry guys, this benefit is strictly for the ladies.


As with everything else I've found, it all comes down to MODERATION. Most of the studies that told us coffee was bad for us were done with very poor science indeed. They based their conclusions off of excessive coffee drinkers (like, 7+ cups a day excessive), and didn't take into account that generally, the people who were drinking coffee in such excess were more likely to engage in riskier health behaviors that led to the same health problems: smoking and excessive alcohol use!

It seems to me that coffee's benefits far out weight its risks for the average healthy adult. Now, if you have caffeine sensitivity, or a condition that could be worsened by coffee, please, listen to your doctor, not me. Your doctor didn't attend a crap-ton of medical school to be ignored - s/he probably has your best interests at heart. In the end, assuming you're an average, healthy adult, listen to your body, and use this lovely natural drug appropriately.

Go to my Research Page for additional reading, and my sources for the above data.


  1. I'm not a coffee drinker, but that's a scrumptious looking coffee!

  2. Thanks! Everything is better with whipped cream and chocolate (you may not be a coffee drinker, but as a baker, I'm sure you can appreciate that) :)

  3. Shea - you rock! I am totally loving your blog, and I have to admit I am both surprised & pleased to find out that my love for coffee is not so bad after all (yay!).

    I'm totally with you on the chocolate and whipped cream thing too - if I'm in the mood for comething sweet, I'll stir a spoonful of ganache into my coffe for a nice, creamy, dark mocha - yummmmmmm

  4. Aw, thank you! If I can help just one person justify their coffee addiction, than I've done my job!

    I love the ganache idea... I'm going to have to try that, I have some nice dark chocolate in my cabinet that's screaming for attention...

  5. I don't drink coffee. I just never acquired a taste for it I guess. Plus I have trouble with caffeine. I'm supposed to keep it to a minimum because of a minor health condition. But I LOVE the smell of it. And that picture on your post just about makes me want to give it another try!

  6. Decaf maybe? Swicc-water method - no chemicals, but still a trace of caffeine, so maybe not.

    So coffee tip for a non-drinker: One great thing you can do with leftover grounds (assuming there's a coffee drinker in the household): dry them out in a low oven, put a small amount in a nylon, or sock, and use like you would baking powder for deodorization (really good in the freezer or shoes).

    It doesn't replace the smell with coffee smell, but absorbs nasty odors :) Works with fresh beans too, if you WANT the delicious coffee smell!


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