Firstly, full disclosure…I love coffee. I’m not alone with an estimated 70 million cups of coffee being drank every day in the UK. Coffee is well & truly entrenched in our culture.
I often get asked by clients "is coffee is bad for me?" & "will I be recommending to cut it out?". I’m personally not a fan of labelling things good or bad as ultimately it is down to the individual and how you uniquely respond to it (I’ll go into this more below). I also try and adopt a realistic approach with my clients. Denying foods & drinks can easily turn into unhealthy eating patterns & further stress so agreeing together on the most appropriate plan is key.
Context is also king when it comes to coffee...
WHY are you having it? As part of a morning ritual or relying on it to get you through the day?
WHEN are you having it? Are you having it instead of breakfast? For better quality sleep it's best to have most of your caffeine in the morning.
HOW are you having it? Are you opting for good quality organic coffee or having it with lots of sugar and cream?
Let’s run through some positives and a few considerations...
Some positives (note these mainly come from having good quality, organic coffee)
Can increase alertness & concentration – probably the most well known benefits of coffee due to its caffeine content. Caffeine is a psychoactive chemical. It increases alertness by decreasing the release of a neurotransmitter called GABA, as well as blocking adenosine (more of this chemical below). It also releases the stress hormone cortisol making us feel more alert in the short term.
Rich in polyphenols – coffee is rich in polyphenols which has health promoting properties, such as, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. There is also some new research to show it can also support gut diversity.
Can affect sleep – a build up of the chemical adenosine is needed across the day to make you tired at night. This is known as sleep pressure. When enough is built up it signals to the body that we are tired. Caffeine works by blocking adenosine receptors. The half life of coffee is 4-6 hours, which is the time it takes for the body to eliminate, so having a cup late afternoon will ultimately affect your sleep. It has been reported that one cup of coffee at night can decrease by up to 20%.
Can affect digestion – coffee can activate peristalsis which is the contraction of the muscles in the GI tract making us rush to the toilet more than we usually might do, especially for those with already sensitive tummies. It can also stimulate stomach acid and act as an irritant, particularly if you suffer from IBS symptoms.
Can trigger anxiety – caffeine can stimulate the ‘flight or flight’ stress response raising cortisol and making anxiety worse in those that suffer from a feeling of nervousness, restlessness, fast heart rate. This also is likely to have an affect on digestion so you might experience both as a consequence.
The effect of coffee is very individual. We are all biochemically different, we all have different digestion systems, we have different sleep patterns. Everyone also metabolises coffee differently. Our liver is the main organ that detoxifies it and some people have a genetic SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) which affects the rate at which it leaves the body. This is one of the reasons why some people can have a coffee after dinner and sleep fine, whilst the rest of us would be up all night.
My general rule of thumb is that if you suffer from bad digestive issues or anxiety stay away from coffee. However if you don’t and enjoy the taste of coffee opt for a good quality organic brand to maximise the antioxidant content. One of my favourites is Exhale coffee.
Aim to have it in the morning to limit the effect on your sleep & stick to one a day. Having it after food, rather than on an empty stomach, can also be better if you suffer from digestive issues. Stay away from the coffees that are full of sugar too.