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Is Coffee Good For My Health?

Holistic and Functional Medicine Doctor's Approach to Health and Wellness
Holistic and Functional Medicine Approach to making your coffee healthy

The ultimate question: Is coffee Good for you, or is coffee bad for you? Let's finally answer the age old question once and for all!

Coffee, the drink most of us have loyally relied on to get us through our most exhausting seasons of life. Even though there is a coffee shop on almost every corner, not all coffee is created equal.

When done right, coffee can have amazing health benefits, on top of keeping you awake. But, when done wrong, it can actually do some real damage to our body. This leaves us with the question “how can I make my coffee work for my body, and not against it?”. Before we get to the good stuff, let’s take a look at what makes coffee beneficial to our health.

What are the benefits of coffee?

  • Full of Antioxidants. Oxidative stress has the ability to break down our DNA, damage our cells, lead to premature aging, and make us more prone to cancer. Anti-oxidants stop this dangerous oxidation from occurring, protecting our body.

  • Boosts metabolism. Coffee raises your adrenaline hormone epinephrine. Epinephrine then tells your body to release fatty acid from your fat tissue, increasing your metabolism.

  • Improves cognitive function. Those who drink coffee were found to have increased reactions, faster decision making, and better verbal memory.

  • Improves mood. Numerous studies have found a link between increased coffee intake and decreased depression. Although the mechanism is not fully known, there is speculation that caffeine increases dopamine, our happy hormone. A second guess is that the polyphenols within the coffee decrease inflammation, which has been associated with depression. Regardless of how, drinking a non-excessive amount of coffee has been shown to improve mood.

  • Decreases inflammation, Improves HDL, and reduces the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. Coffee is full of phytochemicals, which is a fancy way of saying chemicals produced by plants. These phytochemicals help our cells adapt and enhance our cell's mitochondrial function all over the body. This increases our resilience and improves our body's proper functioning.

With so many benefits, why would there be a reason to avoid coffee?

What Are The Drawbacks Of Coffee?

  • Insulin Spikes

  • Headaches

  • High Cortisol

  • Mold Exposure

  • Toxin Exposure

  • Poor Sleep

  • Heart Palpitations

  • Anxiety

  • Irritability

  • Stomach Upset

Well that doesn’t seem right. Some of the benefits directly contradict some of the downsides mentioned. How can that be?

The deciding factors on whether your coffee will be healthy or harmful are all about what coffee you use, how you make it, what you put in it, and when you choose to drink it. Ready to make your coffee work for you? Here's how to make your daily coffee healthier, without skimping on taste.

7 ways to level up your coffee

1. When You Drink It

Coffee is the go-to morning drink for many, often before breakfast. Although your tired mind may think “coffee first”, it may not be the best option. Coffee on an empty stomach has been linked to poor blood sugar control. A recent study showed participants drinking coffee on an empty stomach had a 50% increase in blood glucose levels. To help prevent this from happening, eat a hearty breakfast before that first sip of coffee. If you really struggle with this, try adding a scoop of protein powder to your coffee to prevent those large blood sugar spikes.

Another thing to keep in mind is when to cut off your coffee consumption. Coffee is a stimulant for many. Drinking it after noon may help you get through your afternoon slump, but may make it harder to fall asleep. To prevent trouble sleeping, try drinking your last sip of coffee before noontime.

2. What Coffee Beans You Brew

It’s no surprise that everyone has their favorite coffee. Whether you’re a Starbucks lover or Dunkin fan, where your coffee is sourced is important.

Mycotoxins are a very toxic compound produced by mold. Unfortunately, many coffee beans have tested positive for mycotoxins. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be drinking moldy coffee. Even small amounts of mold exposure have been linked to many negative health symptoms and can stay stored in the fat cells of your body for years wreaking havoc. Some of the symptoms of mold toxicity include:

  • Frequent Sinus Infections/Congestion

  • Allergies

  • Asthma/Trouble Breathing

  • Frequent Coughing

  • Brain Fog

  • Poor Memory

  • Difficulty Concentrating

  • Headaches

  • Dizziness

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Chronic Fatigue

  • Nausea

  • Abdominal Pain

  • Inflammation

  • Fibromyalgia/Muscle Pain

  • Autoimmune Disorders

  • Light/Sound Sensitivity

To avoid mold, ask your local coffee shop what brand of coffee they are using. If that coffee hasn’t gone through third party testing proving it doesn’t contain mycotoxins, you may be drinking moldy coffee.

Your best bet? Brew it from home with a brand you can trust. Some of my favorite go-to trusted brands are Kion, King, and Purity.

If you’re concerned you may have mold toxicity, make sure to work with a qualified functional medicine practitioner who can help you get advanced mold testing and will create a personalized treatment plan to get you feeling better.

3. What Water You Use

We need water to survive, but most of our tap water is full of chemicals that disrupt our hormones, expose us to harmful bacteria, and make us more susceptible to disease. Even bottled water is starting to cause problems because of the toxins in plastic leaching into the water. The best way to prevent being exposed to harmful chemicals is to use filtered water.

Keep in mind that many filters only remove a few basic minerals and do not remove pesticides, prescription medications, heavy metals, and forever chemicals. My favorite effective water purifiers are Aquatru and Berkey.

4. What Container You Drink From

As you heard before, plastic is made of many chemicals. Those chemicals leak into the food and beverages touching the plastic container. The most common plastic chemical is BPA, which is found in many plastic cups and bottles. But even "BPA-free" labeled plastics aren’t free of harmful chemicals. These BPA Free alternatives are BPF and BPS. They have have a very similar structure to BPA and have unfortunately been found to have the same detrimental effects as BPA. This includes disrupting your hormones and reproductive system, damaging your immune system, increasing inflammation, and damaging the genetic material within your cells. Not only that, but when these items are heated up, even more harmful chemicals are released. Not a great place to put a steaming cup of hot coffee.

To prevent chemicals from being transferred into your coffee, opt for glass or stainless-steel cups. If you’re getting coffee on the go, try bringing your own mug.

Unsolicited Advice: don't sweat it if once in a blue moon you get your coffee in a plastic cup. Is it ideal? No. But you'll never have zero toxic chemical exposure. The best you can do is to try to limit them whenever you're able, and don't stress about the rest.

5. What Milk You Add

Another culprit of raising your blood sugar is the type of milk you add. Many milk alternatives have added sugar, which can spike your glucose. Oat milk and rice milk are big culprits of this since they are actually grains (like pasta!). Aim for a low glycemic milk such as almond or coconut milk. Look for organic milk that has nuts and water as the two ingredients. If it has lots of ingredients, I suggest putting it back on the shelf. Some of my favorite organic alternative milks include Three Trees (almond & oat), Malk (almond & oat) and Native Forest (coconut).

Blood sugar is not the only thing to look out for when it comes to milk. Most milks bought at the grocery store are highly processed. The cows used to create the milk are full of hormones and antibiotics. These then pass through the cows milk and are consumed by you, disrupting your hormones, gut health, and immune system. How the milk is also processed often takes away much of it’s nutritional value.

If you’re going for store bought, aim for organic. If you’re feeling more adventurous, look for local farmers that have raw, organic milk that is from grass fed and finished cows. This will have much higher nutritional value and will not have added hormones or antibiotics that are unhealthy for us.

6. What Sweeteners You Use

Everyone has a different taste profile when it comes to coffee, some like it bitter, while others prefer it sweet. If you have a sweet tooth, take a look at what you’re adding to your coffee.

Artificial sweeteners have been linked to digestive problems, headaches, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, increased risk of cancer and autoimmune conditions, along with mood disorders such as anxiety and depression.

Artificial Sweetener to look for on labels include:

  • Aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal)

  • Sorbitol

  • Saccharin (Sweet N’ Low)

  • Acesulfame-K

  • Sucralose (Splenda)

  • Neotame (Newtame)

  • Advantame

  • Acesulfame Potassium (Sunnett, Sweet One)

  • Xylitol

  • Stevia (Pure Via, Truvia)

To avoid these effects, opt for organic, raw, local honey, coconut sugar, or some organic maple syrup.

Remember, any high sugar intake, no matter how natural or healthy, will affect your blood sugar. Try and minimize how much sugar you add and drink your coffee after consuming a balanced meal.

7. Additional Spices

Spices have been used for centuries to help bolster our immune system. One creative way to increase your spice consumption is to add a pinch (or more) to your coffee!

Cinnamon is a fan favorite in the fall with its sweet and spicy smell and warm taste, but it may be worth incorporating year-round. This rich anti-inflammatory spice is loaded with antioxidants. It has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, improve insulin sensitivity, and lower blood sugar. Studies have also shown cinnamon to be neuro-protective against diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, as well as protecting against cancers. This antibacterial, anti-fungal, and antiviral super spice is one to consider incorporating into your coffee, as well as your daily cooking!

Ginger is another high-powered spice to add into your morning coffee routine. Ginger has a spicy-kick that is often associated with sushi, and not just for it’s taste. It’s powerful antimicrobial properties help prevent infections that could occur with consuming raw fish. Another common association is pregnancy due to ginger’s anti-nausea effects. Less main stream effects include increased muscle recovery, reduction of migraines, lowered blood sugar, decreased inflammation, and reduced pain.

Turmeric and its active compound curcumin, have been known for their yellow color, earthy taste, and medicinal effects for thousands of years. Like the other spices mentioned, it is also anti-inflammatory, with preventative effects on cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and more. It increases antioxidants and is being studied for treating depression. If you’re looking to brighten up your coffee, this is a great place to start.

Although there are many more spices to choose from, these three are some of my favorites to pair with coffee. Keep in mind that spices, although natural, can contain harmful chemicals (such as heavy metals) depending on how they were grown and processed. Simply Organic is one of the best, easily accessible brands I've found. If you really want to get hands on, then try growing your own herbs!

Remember, natural doesn't mean safe. These spices are medicinal, and consuming large amounts can be harmful, or may cause interactions with medications and supplements. Talk with your doctor or a functional medicine specialist to see if adding these spices is a good option for you.

Final Thoughts

Even with optimizing how you take your coffee, your body is unique and may react differently than your best friend. Pay attention to how you feel after drinking coffee. If you often feel more jittery, anxious, and wired, your genes may have a harder time breaking down coffee because you are slower to metabolize it. Make sure to observe how you feel and adjust to what feels best for your health.

Coffee is a diuretic and can be dehydrating, so make sure you are getting plenty of hydration. My favorite way to get hydration without processed sugars or dyes is by adding LMNT to my water.

In need of some guidance on your heath journey? Doing all the right things and still not seeing an improvement? Overwhelmed with all the health advice and don't know where to start? Apply to work with our integrative and functional medicine doctor to find the root cause of your health symptoms and start feeling your best.

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