Question

What is your opinion on coffee? How is it better to drink it? I am a coffee lover (without sugar), but I would like to know more about it.

Adrian

Answer

Coffee comes from a plant, and like all plants, it falls on the food-medicine spectrum. The closer a plant is to the food end of the spectrum, the more liberal we can be with its use. This includes most of our fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds. Herbs and spices tend to cluster in the middle of the spectrum, where the food-medicine properties are pretty even, and we need to consume these plants in smaller amounts and with more awareness. Then, the closer a plant is to the medicine end of the spectrum, the more conservative and cautious we have to be with its use. Some of the most extreme plant medicines are considered as toxic or poisonous plants by our society. Others, which are less extreme, require proper knowledge and discernment to use them safely and wisely, factoring in things like dose, frequency, contraindications, and purpose.

In the case of coffee, it is closer to the medicine end of the spectrum, and it can rightfully be called a drug given its strong ability to impact our body and produce obvious short-term symptoms and long-term effects. For this reason, we cannot consider coffee a “food” or treat it like we would a fruit or vegetable drink. Unfortunately, this is exactly what our society does, having turned it into a massive industry that markets it as an everyday beverage of choice. In doing so, it undermines the power of coffee and leads us to abuse this drug and use it against ourselves.

Confusion about coffee

In discussions and debates about coffee, people often tend to adopt polarized views that either perceive coffee as a bad and unhealthy substance or as a good and beneficial substance. The truth is that coffee is both and neither, bad and good. What happens in such dialogues is that we lose context and fixate instead on isolated details, while we miss the big picture perspective. This is why it is futile to bring in any scientific studies that try to prove the case one way or the other. All they are doing is giving us fuel to solidify our beliefs, and as we know today, it is all too easy to find a study on any topic to prove one’s point. This is predominantly due to the degradation of what “science” means and how scientific research is conducted today, being riddled with academic and financial conflicts of interest and poorly designed studies that are set up to prove a certain desired outcome. This is why I always encourage people today to go beyond the hype, headlines, and fads and look for something deeper, something more meaningful and timeless to attain quality information and get closer to the real truth.

For more information, I recommend the following research report, Coffee and health, which is the closest to providing an unbiased overview of coffee’s risks and benefits.

Concerns about coffee

In general, coffee is an acid-forming stimulant, with addictive properties. It is easy in this sense to perceive our need for coffee as our love for coffee. And as already established, it is a drug, which is defined as a substance which has a physiological effect when introduced into the body. Possible effects of coffee include, but are not limited to, heart palpitations and rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, anxiety, irritability, nervousness, insomnia, adrenal fatigue, headaches, increased blood pressure, altered brain function, mood imbalances, indigestion and acid reflux, increased risk of kidney stones and liver stress, teeth discoloration, as well as possible diuretic and laxative effects. Coffee can impair the absorption and use of certain nutrients, like folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12, as well as calcium. Given the calcium connection and coffee’s acid-forming effects, it is a concern for bone health, especially in women. Any of these effects can present themselves due to the substance being in your system or when the substance is not in your system, but your body has developed a dependence on it. As is the case with many drugs, it does not affect everyone in the same way nor does it produce the same obvious effects in everyone. Some people are very sensitive to the effects of coffee and cannot tolerate any of it, some build up a tolerance for it over time, while others yet seem to suffer little, if any, effect from coffee. The absence of obvious or immediate effects, however, should not make us naive or quick to dismiss coffee’s effects on our body regardless.

We must also consider the quality and the quantity of the coffee ingested to better evaluate any potential risks and harm. Ultimately, it is often hard to pinpoint the cause of many diseases that humans get as the disease often manifests some time after the initial exposure and when the body’s own balancing system and resilience to offset any harmful effects breaks down. It is equally important to be aware that it is never one thing that is the cause of any disease, but a dynamic interplay between too many stressors in our life that tax our system and push it over the edge.

Benefits of coffee

When positive effects of coffee are considered, antioxidant and alertness benefits are what comes to mind most commonly. There is no doubt that coffee possesses some valuable antioxidants that can help provide health benefits, however it must be noted that we are also not missing out on anything if we choose not to drink coffee, as we can get powerful antioxidant benefits simply from eating the right foods — whole plant foods. There are many substances like coffee that have some benefit along with some harm, so it is imperative to analyze all the pros and cons holistically in order to have the best understanding of possible consequences.

When it comes to mental alertness and any enhanced cognitive function, coffee’s greatest risk is also its greatest benefit, this being as a stimulant. Thus, just like with any drug it is all about knowing how much to take and when for most benefit if such an effect is required. Unfortunately what has happened in our society is the abuse of this substance by using it on a daily basis to make up for poor sleep and unhealthy lifestyle habits, rather than as an occasional performance enhancer. Regular coffee use then creates a negative feedback loop where we experience a surge of energy at one point, only to suffer a deficiency at another point, resulting in energy imbalances and sleep problems over time.

The best way to test coffee’s effect on you, and more so your dependence on it, is to go at least several days without it and evaluate how you feel. If you can function fine without it and feel relatively good, this is a good sign and chances are that you can enjoy coffee from time to time just fine. However, if you suffer from any unpleasant symptoms without it or cannot function properly without it, this is reflective of addiction and your body’s inability to operate properly without the substance, which is debilitating and concerning, to say the least.

Traditional and modern use of coffee

Here is an excerpt from my book Healing & Prevention Through Nutrition to provide more perspective about coffee.

The problems associated with coffee stem from the unique medicinal compounds it possesses and extend to how it is industrially grown using various synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, the bean processing methods, the unhealthy additions consumed with coffee, and the unnatural quantities consumed of it. When indigenous people used the coffee bean, its quality and quantity were very different from what we drink today. Nature provides powerful substances that can aid in healing and prevention, but we need to respect and know how to use them rather than abuse them. We have become extremely disconnected from nature in our modern society, so we often undermine the medicinal properties of plants, not realizing that they have powerful effects that can heal or harm. Such is the case with coffee. It is an amazingly potent collection of biologically active compounds, with caffeine (a psychoactive substance), being just one tiny part and making up a mere one to two percent of the bean. The intricate roles of the other compounds need further study, but for proper use and health outcomes, we should approach coffee like a drug, not any type of food or beverage. Misuse and abuse of any drug lead to serious problems, and ones associated with coffee are distinctly visible in our coffee-dependent society.

If you are like many people in the population, the idea of giving up coffee may leave you cringing or perhaps getting defensive. People often ask me what is the minimum amount of coffee that is safe to consume. The answer is that there is no one, magic number. It will have a different effect and risk potential for each individual and depend on your overall state of health, diet, and other lifestyle factors. If you are eating highly alkaline regularly with minimal to no processed food, exercising, sleeping well, and not ingesting other harmful substances, then perhaps a cup or two per week won’t be a big deal. However, things get complicated if you are already suffering from any physical or mental health condition, if you experience high-stress levels on a regular basis, or if you have unhealthy lifestyle habits. You may be tempted to turn to decaf, but that can actually be even more harmful since it gets chemically processed. To remove caffeine from coffee, a chemical solvent, such as trichloroethylene or the more popular methylene chloride, is used, none of which are good for your health.

Best way to drink coffee

If you do choose to consume any coffee, then the safest way to do so is as follows:

  • Consume organic coffee only. This helps you avoid the toxicity risks and chemical problems associated with modern farming methods of coffee.

  • Consume pure, fresh, high-quality coffee, without any flavors or additives. This helps you avoid highly processed versions of coffee and any artificial or refined flavors and other additives that it may contain.

  • Avoid consuming coffee with any dairy or refined sugar. This helps you avoid the problems associated with these substances, which turn coffee from a potentially beneficial drink into a highly unhealthy one. If you must use any such substances, opt instead for a pure, organic non-dairy milk or cream and less risky sweeteners, like organic maple syrup or organic stevia.

  • Consume small amounts of coffee, infrequently. If you enjoy coffee and like its flavor, treat it like an occasional treat, rather than any kind of daily beverage. This helps you reduce any negative effects associated with coffee and benefit most from any of its positive effects.