Since coffee has been blamed for everything and nothing, it is time to rehabilitate it a little. Sugar-free AND in small doses coffee can have health benefits. With the giant sizes of the coffee counters teeming with people, the “average” coffee usually exceeds the healthy amount.
Are you a large or moderate consumer?
Coffee and caffeine
Studies on the effects of coffee and caffeine on our health are now numerous and all have one thing in common: quantity. So let’s define the portion. The cup of coffee used for the studies is 237 ml. Consumption of up to 3 cups of this size per day is considered moderate. For caffeine, the maximum recommended amount is 400 mg per day.
The benefits of moderate coffee are many and somewhat surprising:
- Protection against free radicals because it is very rich in antioxidants. Unlike sugar, milk or cream would not affect their assimilation.
- These antioxidants would help to stabilize blood sugar levels and therefore help prevent type 2 diabetes, breast and prostate cancer, and finally protect neurons against Alzheimer’s disease.
- Coffee will help prevent and even relieve the first symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
- It would also help to prevent cardiovascular diseases.
- One cup of coffee (or tea) a day reduces the chance of a stroke.
- 10% reduction in the risk of gallstones; by stimulating the circulation of fluids in the gallbladder, coffee would prevent cholesterol from crystallizing in the gallbladder.
However, these benefits give way to disadvantages beyond 400 mg of caffeine per day:
- Coffee makes you irritable (be careful during PMS and in times of stress)
- As it is stimulating, coffee affects sleep – note that caffeine stays in your body until 14 hours after you have had your coffee (14!).
- It increases anxiety (even in small doses) – if you suffer from stress and anxiety, coffee is definitely not recommended for you.
- Increases blood pressure – note for people with high blood pressure.
- It can cause gastric reflux and heartburn.
- It affects calcium absorption and therefore does not promote bone health. People who suffer from or are at risk of osteoporosis should do without it.
- It interferes with the absorption of iron.
- Coffee affects some people more than others.
Health Canada recommends that pregnant, breastfeeding and pregnant women limit their intake to 300 mg of caffeine per day. In addition, part of the population with a genetic mutation degrades caffeine more slowly. These people feel the stimulating effects of coffee more intensely.
Coffee at the restaurant or at home?
If, like many Canadians, you are used to buying your coffee ready instead of making it at home, I suggest you check the portion sizes: at most specialized restaurants, the “small” coffee is much larger than the normal 237 ml cup.
As for the caffeine content, it varies not only according to the type of coffee, espresso or filter, but also according to the size of the grind, the brewing time, the quantity and temperature of the water, the origin of the coffee, etc. To give you an idea, here is the average caffeine content for the most common types of coffee:
- Espresso (simple): 89 mg/50ml
- Filter coffee: 179mg / 237ml
- Coffee percolator: 118mg / 237 ml
- Americano: generally composed of 2 doses of espresso so: 178mg
Given the great popularity of specialized coffees, researchers have looked at variations in caffeine content from various coffee restos.
For espresso, the variations ranged from 58 to 76 mg for singles and from 133 to 185mg for doubles.
For filter coffee, the differences were even more pronounced: 143 mg to 259 mg for 16 oz (476 ml).
Note that the 16 oz size is equivalent to the “large format” of Starbucks, the “medium format” of Second Cup and contains a little more than the “medium format” coffees of Tim Horton or McDonald.
To complicate matters, these same researchers compared the cup of “Breakfast blend” purchased at the same Starbucks branch over a period of 6 consecutive days. As a result, on a daily basis, the caffeine content could vary by a factor of two, from 259 to 564 mg/476mL. In short, we cannot rely on the size of our coffee!
Coffee consumption in Canada
In Canada, coffee consumption averages 152.1 litres per person per year, almost the equivalent of a barrel! Given the high concentration of Tim Horton counters (1 per 9,000 inhabitants), one would expect it to be the most popular, but don’t get me wrong; last October, McLeans magazine published the results of an amazing survey that ranked the McCafé first and Tim Horton’s…in fourth!
Unless we make our own coffee and drink it only moderately, we can’t rely on the number of cups we drink each day.
What are the signs of drinking too much coffee?
- You’re consumed with anxiety. Caffeine increases the feeling of anxiety by its action on cortisol, the stress hormone. Too much cortisol production increases stress, anxiety, fatigue, etc.
- You have sleep disorders; either difficulty falling asleep, or disturbed or interrupted sleep, which only aggravates anxiety. Remember… 14 hours in the body.
- You have headaches or migraines.
- You have digestive problems: Coffee stimulates gastric acid production which can cause discomfort, heartburn and reflux. Moreover, since coffee is laxative, even moderate consumption speeds up the output.
- In large quantities, coffee becomes irritating and can cause frequent urination needs.
- Your heart is beating too fast. Palpitations are scary!
- You’re shaking. It’s a bit of a caricature: coffee makes you shake so much that it becomes impossible to hold a full cup without spilling it.
How to reduce your coffee consumption
If you are used to drinking sweet, flavoured coffees with milk or cream, start by reducing the additives. Some specialty coffees, especially those with flavours and whipped creams, contain an astronomical amount of sugar and fat. Sometimes the amount of sugar far exceeds that contained in soft drinks… Switch to regular coffee, I am sure you will not add 4 tablespoons of sugar.
Coffee is addictive. That’s true. Except that the effects of withdrawal are mild and short-lived. You may experience fatigue and headaches for 2 or 3 days and that’s it.
By gradually reducing your intake, you will probably not experience these symptoms. On the other hand, don’t rely too much on decaffeinated coffee to compensate for the cups you try to eliminate from your daily life. Decaf increases the risk of suffering from arthritis. It would seem that this effect is related to the solvents used to remove the caffeine and not to its absence as such.
It is better to replace it with a coffee substitute, a herbal tea or simply water. Some coffee substitutes will satisfy the most capricious with their beautiful texture, rich and slightly bitter taste. I can’t wait for a comforting hot liquid, without the stimulating effect that is frankly too stressful.