The aroma of coffee brewing is enough to wake anyone up, and we rely on the drink to get us through the day. But is coffee really that good for us? Nutritionist Bridie Kersten* finds out.
The humble latte rules the Australian morning. Men in suits and mums at home sip the brew before the sun even makes it over the horizon. Some of us don’t stop sipping until bed- time. Headlines have claimed that the drink is a healthy, life-giving choice and perhaps even prevents the onset of some diseases. However, the science behind this always contradicts itself within a few years and ends up being so confusing that it is of little use anyway.
According to the most recent data, caffeine is not as addictive as we once thought. However, some people suffer from headaches and other extreme withdrawal symptoms when they try to reduce their intake. Statistically, coffee is thought to reduce the risk of brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s. And while it can decrease the risk of depression in some people, it can increase the risk of anxiety in others, so we cannot be definite about its effect on the brain.
Coffee contains caffeine which affects the way our brain sends messages, leading to an artificial sense of wakefulness and alertness. This also affects other bodily functions such as our digestive system, slowing it down or stopping it from properly digesting our food, therefore hindering our nutrient supply. Also, coffee is a diuretic which means that our body expels more water than usual, which is why it dehydrates us.
As much as we all love coffee, the problem is that we don’t know how it affects the body in the long term because everyone responds so differently to it. We do know that, while coffee seems to have some good effects, it places an extra load on the liver. An overburdened liver leads to too many free radicals in the body and these are what cause cancer if they are not neutralised by antioxidants. And, of course, coffee interferes with a good night’s rest by reducing the quality of our sleep.
So while the research is promising for the health benefits of coffee, so far it is too generalised to encourage everyone to start drinking coffee. If you are having 1–2 cups each day with minimal added milk, no added sugar and you don’t feel unwell afterwards, then there is no reason to give it up. But we should all be mindful about how much we are willing to let coffee be the difference between a good morning and a not-so-good morning.
*Bridie Kersten is a registered nutritionist with an interest in holistic and alternative health who blogs at facebook.com/thenutritionistnanny.