The Truth About Coffee
The surprising reasons why you should drink coffee every day.
Over the years, coffee has been given a bad rap. We’ve all probably heard that we shouldn’t drink coffee, or at least we shouldn’t drink too much. More and more people are proudly stating that they have given up coffee completely.
But 64% of Americans drink at least one cup of coffee a day. When you consider that about 22% of the US population is under 18, that only leaves about 20% of the adult population not drinking a cup of coffee every day.
The average number of cups drunk per person per day is 3, and this hasn’t changed since 1999. Evidently we like our coffee, and are drinking it despite being told it’s not good for us.
“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.” — T.S. Eliot
In the 1970s and 1980s, coffee was said to increase risk of cardiovascular issues, cancer, stroke, and various other detrimental health consequences. But actually, coffee has consistently been shown to decrease the risk of all of these. It also increases life expectancy, improves physical and cognitive performance, and is full of nutrients.
Dr. Sanjiv Chopra, author of The Big Five: Five Simple Things You Can Do to Live a Longer, Healthier Life, puts coffee as the number one strategy to living a longer and happier life. In fact, he says it’s the healthiest drink there is.
Here’s why you should drink coffee everyday, and how to make it work best for you.
The benefits of coffee
There are numerous benefits to coffee, and these seem to increase linearly with the number of cups drunk in a day. This may go against everything you have previously heard. We’re always told how bad coffee is for us, and that we should stop drinking it altogether.
Or, we should at least do a 30-day detox or something of the like. However, as you will see, there are many more benefits than drawbacks to drinking coffee, and in fact, coffee has been scientifically proven to be “remarkably” safe to drink in moderate amounts (up to 4–5 cups, depending on body weight).
Coffee has been shown to improve mood and contentment, and this effect is increased when you consume coffee regularly.
Coffee can improve performance in every regard, whether cognitive, physical, social, or other. Unlike the other benefits of coffee, this one is mainly attributed to the caffeine content, rather than the coffee itself.
Caffeine has been shown to decrease perceived effort during a workout, and thus improve performance in the gym. It also increases time-to-exhaustion, muscle strength, and sprint power.
For maximum effect, drink a cup or two of coffee one hour prior to a physical performance, whether going to the gym or competing in a sport. This is the point where the performance affects peak.
Caffeine is also the most widely used stimulant and neuro-enhancer in the world. It improves cognition — memory, attention, and reaction time all improve when drinking coffee.
“The powers of a man’s mind are directly proportional to the quantity of coffee he drank.” — Sir James MacKintosh, Scottish politician and historian
The cafestol and kahweol molecules present in coffee have cancer-fighting properties. However, these are filtered out when using filter paper, so for best effect, drink French press or Turkish coffee.
Furthermore, coffee is packed with antioxidants, which are molecules that bind to free radicals and reduce the risk of cancer.
Reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
Both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee consumption has been correlated to a reduced risk of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. It appears that there are compounds in coffee that prevent the build-up of both beta-amyloid and tau — compounds that have been linked to the development of these diseases.
Interestingly, it appears that dark roasts have more of these compounds, so for maximum effect, go for a dark roasted bean.
One of my favorite coffee hacks is to drink a cup of black coffee (i.e. no calories) before a morning workout or movement session. This will lead to increased fatty acid mobilization during the workout, leading to an increase in fat loss.
Caffeine can also increase the amount of fat burned during a workout, meaning that you will be burning more fat at the gym than if you hadn’t had that cup of coffee beforehand.
Coffee has repeatedly been shown to increase life expectancy: those who regularly drink coffee are less likely to die from any cause, from heart failure to stroke to suicide. Interestingly, this effect remained whether the coffee was decaf or not, an even bigger incentive to switch to decaf coffee once a month.
This comes from a meta-analysis of over 200 studies investigating the link between coffee and longevity. Researchers explain,
“Drinking coffee was consistently associated with a lower risk of death from all causes and from heart disease, with the largest reduction in relative risk of death at three cups a day, compared with non-coffee drinkers. Increasing consumption to above three cups a day was not associated with harm, but the beneficial effect was less pronounced.”
Therefore, it appears that for maximum health benefits, drink 3 cups of coffee a day. While more will not hurt you, they also won’t have any added benefit.
This may be due to a number of effects, such as coffee’s ability to reduce systemic inflammation, reduce age-related problems, and slow down the metabolic processes that lead to aging. Coffee also has numerous nutrients that lower insulin resistance.
Drinking 1 cup per day was associated with lowered all-cause mortality of 12%, and drinking more than two cups per day was associated with lowered all-cause mortality of 18%, compared with non-coffee drinkers.
Even more astonishing is that high consumption of polyphenols, the main compound found in coffee, has been correlated to a 30% reduction in the mortality of older adults — a very good reason for older adults to regularly consume coffee.
Fix leaky brain
The blood-brain barrier (BBB) regulates what goes into your brain, and protects the brain against toxins and pathogens. However, due to our sleep-deprived, alcohol-ridden, high blood pressure society, it can become leaky. This is a problem, as substances that definitely should not be in your brain are getting in. It can lead to depression and anxiety, brain fog, and even things like Alzheimer’s disease.
But luckily, caffeine protects the integrity of the BBB and therefore contributes to the prevention of anxiety and depression, as well as Alzheimer’s.
Improve gut health
A recent study has suggested that drinking coffee can improve the health of your gut by increasing the diversity of gut bacteria.
Your gut is so important for overall health, from mental health due to all the neurotransmitters that reside in your gut, to immunity and better sleep. So anything that improves your gut health is something you should incorporate into your life.
The drawbacks of coffee
While there are obviously a lot of reasons why we should drink coffee, we should also consider instances when we shouldn’t drink it. An important consideration is pregnant women — caffeine has been shown to be not completely safe for this population, although new research is suggesting that up to two cups are safe when pregnant. Some other considerations include:
“High doses of caffeine can flood the brain with excitatory neurotransmitters, creating neurotransmitter resistance or long-term receptor damage.” — Ben Greenfield
This can make you resistant to the effects of neurotransmitters, due to the constant flood of adrenaline and other energy hormones. This can lead to adrenal depletion and corresponding feelings of fatigue, and the need for more and more caffeine.
With regular coffee consumption, some people experience withdrawal symptoms when they don’t have coffee. While slightly unpleasant, caffeine withdrawal isn’t something to be overly concerned about and symptoms should go away in a day or two. See below for how to mitigate this effect.
Slow coffee metabolizers
Those who are slow coffee metabolizers can tolerate far less caffeine than those who metabolize caffeine more quickly. Listen to your body. If you start getting jittery, you’ve reached your limit. Stop drinking coffee for the day.
Very hot coffee (or any drink) has been linked to oesophageal cancer. So wait for it to cool before drinking.
How to make coffee work for you
Take a break
Too much of anything is bad. And this definitely includes coffee. You need to take regular breaks, ideally for one week every month. I just do the first week of every month, so that it’s easy to remember.
Taking a break has multiple benefits, the first and main one being the effect it has on the adenosine receptors in the brain. Caffeine mimics adenosine, the neurotransmitter in the brain that makes us feel tired. Caffeine binds to the adenosine receptors, therefore blocking the adenosine from binding to the receptors, which is how caffeine works to make us feel awake.
However, continued caffeine use causes our brain to create more receptors, which is why it takes more and more amounts of caffeine to achieve the same buzz.
This also means that when we don’t have caffeine, or when the caffeine runs its course, there are a lot of receptors for the fatigue-inducing adenosine to bind to and we experience a huge crash in energy.
If you have a reliance on caffeine, and/or experience caffeine withdrawal symptoms when you don’t have a cup first thing in the morning, this will help curb that.
The L-theanine and caffeine combination is a well known brain-boosting stack. L-theanine is an amino acid that induces feelings of calm and relaxation.
L-theanine combined with caffeine improves concentration, focus, and energy. You get the benefits of caffeine without the jitters or anxiety that can sometimes come with it.
Interestingly, green tea is high in L-theanine and also contains caffeine. It’s nature’s own brain-boosting stack. If you’re not a big green tea drinker, you can buy L-theanine capsules. Take one 20–30 minutes before drinking coffee, as the L-theanine takes longer to metabolize than the coffee. The usual recommended dose is 400mg of L-theanine to 100mg of caffeine.
Find organic, mold-free coffee
Only 3% of the coffee in the world is organic, and a lot of coffee blends contain mold. As with any plant we eat, coffee beans are often sprayed with pesticides, and these can get into the resulting cup of coffee that we drink.
Similarly, cheap beans can often contain mold. This mold can lead to the production of mycotoxins — which, according to the World Health Organisation, have been linked to immune deficiencies and cancer.
To mitigate these, look for organic certified coffee beans. Also, look for beans grown at a higher altitude, as the air tends to be dryer and therefore mould is less likely. Make sure you store your beans in an air-tight container.
Drink unfiltered coffee
A lot of the beneficial compounds found in coffee are filtered out when filter paper is used — such as in a Chemex or V60 brew, or in a drip coffee maker. Using a French press or Turkish coffee maker will ensure you get all the good compounds in your drink.
We love coffee. The majority of adults drink it every day, and more and more studies are showing how good it is for our health.
- Improves mood
- Improves physical and cognitive performance
- Fights cancer
- Reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
- Increases fat loss
- Leads to a longer life
- Fixes leaky brain
- Improves gut health
The researcher of one study investigating coffee’s effect on longevity sums it up quite well:
“If you like to drink coffee, drink up! If you’re not a coffee drinker, then you need to consider if you should start.”