7 August 2013, 11:30
The hiss of the milk frother, the smell of roasted beans, the ritual of the coffee shop… It’s no wonder we’re all hooked on coffee. But did you know it ain’t all that good for us?
Yep, it’s sad but true. Last Monday, after my body reacted somewhat violently to my usual soy latte, I swore off coffee permanently.
After a week off the stuff, my mind feels clearer and more naturally focussed… And I started doing a little research on coffee. What I found was pretty alarming. In case you, like me, have been kept in the dark about coffee’s less positive traits, here’s a little information…
1. Coffee doesn’t really give you energy; it actually makes you more tired. The boost you get from caffeine is nothing more than chemical stimulation as your body struggles to adapt to increased blood levels of stress hormones.
2. In the words of Stephen Cherniske: “Using stimulants is like a whipping a horse. They work for a short time but prove disastrous when used repeatedly.” Caffeine taxes the adrenal glands, which impacts your thyroid, sex hormones, and your metabolism.
3. Yes, your metabolism. Coffee actually encourages your body to hold onto fat. Why? Coffee is highly acidic, and our bodies store acids in fat. In fact, our bodies hold onto extra fat in order to keep acids from harming sensitive organs. If you feel like you’re storing a few stubborn extra pounds, this is yet another reason to give coffee a miss!
4. All the things we add into our coffee — milk, soy milk, sugar, artificial sweeteners — wreak havoc on our body. Among other side effects, dairy products cause pimples, soy products weaken the immune system, sugar leeches collagen from your skin (making you look older than you are), and artificial sweeteners are hideous in almost every way.
5. Coffee is extremely acid-forming in the body. Put simply, alkaline foods are good for us, and foods that create acid are the opposite. The more coffee you drink, the more acidic your pH level becomes… And the more chance you have of developing cancer.
6. Excessive coffee consumption can create a B vitamin deficiency, which in turn makes us feel exhausted, achy and nervous. The acidity of coffee sucks calcium from your body, leading to an increased chance of osteoporosis. Coffee can also prevent nutrients from being properly absorbed in our small intestine. Studies have shown that just one cup of coffee can reduce iron absorption from a meal by as much as 75%!
7. Coffee makes you look older. It prevents DHEA from being produced, and DHEA is responsible for regenerating and nourishing our skin. You also probably already know how dehydrating caffeine is. Dehydration literally sucks moisture from your skin… Meaning you’ll look ancient sooner. Additionally, if you have rosacea, coffee encourages flare-ups.
8. Coffee stresses you out. When you drink a hot, creamy latte, your brain pings the release of stress hormones like epinephrine, cortisol, norepinephrine and glucocorticoids. These hormones don’t just accelerate aging, they keep the body in a “stressed state”. While this feels good on a temporary basis — the kicky high of caffeine is familiar to most of us — we later experience tension and anxiety.
9. Coffee affects and impedes the absorption of certain medications, most notably tricyclic antidepressants. This makes the symptoms of depression much worse!
10. ...And caffeine causes depression and anxiety in the first place. It can lead to panic attacks too. According to Cherniske, a lot of people end up taking antidepressants because of the lack of sleep, fatigue and various psychological issues they experience from drinking coffee. He added that you cannot truly get off of an antidepressant if you’re still drinking coffee… And that it takes a minimum of eight weeks to totally clear your system of caffeine.
Need more reasons? Coffee is one of the most heavily pesticide-sprayed crops; coffee taxes our liver; coffee drinkers have lower levels of serotonin synthesis in the brain (i.e., feel less happiness); many of the substances in coffee are carcinogenic; caffeine raises blood pressure; cutting out coffee can reduce and even eliminate chronic pain; coffee damages the nervous system; coffee drinkers handle stress less effectively; people who drink coffee get less sleep (and sleep makes you beautiful); caffeine plays a significant part in hypoglycemia and blood sugar disorders; coffee can lead to stroke; caffeine impedes creativity; and coffee can lead to allergies, asthma and reduced immune response.
Okay, so I am not saying that you should never drink coffee again. I think that is a tall order for even the most disciplined of people. It’s not all bad: it is packed with antioxidants, for example. But what I am saying is that coffee is not a health elixir… And if you’re drinking multiple cups a day, you might want to try substituting it with something else.
If you’re not convinced — and are cursing me out for even suggesting you ease up on your beloved espresso — know that your brain’s automatic response (“I could never quit coffee!”) is because, well, you’re addicted. (People say the same kind of thing about giving up cigarettes and sugar; again, it’s because you’re addicted.) And all that stuff about how “I can’t function before a cup of coffee” is, quite frankly, ridiculous. The human body wasn’t created to require coffee for optimal performance.
I promise you that if you ease up on the black stuff, you will feel more refreshed when you wake up, you will have more energy and focus throughout the day, and you will be less stressed out. In short, you will still be you, just better.
So, how do I slow down on drinking coffee?
It all depends on what you want to do. I stopped drinking coffee entirely because it was upsetting my stomach too much. (It also makes my skin suck, which is a huge motivator for me.) But if you just want to reduce the number of cups you drink per day, it might be easiest to simply replace some of them with something else.
Here’s the good news: there are plenty of delicious hot beverages that can replace your precious coffee!
My favourite is Yerba Mate. I bought a bag last week, and I am into it like you wouldn’t believe. There are about a million reasons to switch to yerba mate from coffee, but here are a few: it’s rich in antioxidants; it increases physical endurance and causes you to burn carbohydrates more effectively; it aids in digestion; it reduces fat absorption, suppresses your appetite and makes you feel full for longer; it supports cardiovascular health; and it tastes great. (Really, really great! Obsessed!)
You can make a delicious — and healthy — hot chocolate using a few simple ingredients. Mix together a can of coconut milk, about 5 tablespoons of raw cacao, a drop of vanilla extract (the good stuff!) and a pinch of salt. (Don’t be tempted to try it. It will taste vile!) Store it in the fridge, and when you want a hot drink, pour a little in a cup, add some sweetener (I like stevia), some hot water and as much almond milk as you like!
Try Dandy Blend! (I love the name. If that doesn’t pique your interest, what will?!) It’s a great coffee substitute with plenty of health benefits.
Make your own chai! I love chai, but the concentrate they use in most places is absolutely chockablock with sugar. (There are 41 grams of sugar in a Tall Starbucks Chai Latte.) You can make your own easily, and store it in the fridge! You could also try making a chai hot chocolate. Yum.
Teeccino is a caffeine-free herbal coffee which comes in a trillion flavours (hazelnut, French vanilla, caramel nut, chocolate raspberry, etc.) and tastes fantastic.
...And of course, there’s good old tea. Green tea has more health benefits than you can shake a stick at, oolong tea helps to speed up the metabolism by about 4% (which results in around an 8lb loss per year), and perennial classic English Breakfast tea can’t be beaten.
So, what do you think? Are you inspired to give it a go? Or would you never, ever betray coffee beans?
With love from a yerba mate convert,
Check out Stephen Cherniske’s book, Caffeine Blues: Wake Up to the Hidden Dangers of America’s #1 Drug, for a whole lot more detailed information on the various ways in which caffeine is a major bummer. Dr Mark Hyman has written some really informative articles on the subject, too.
 In order to present a balanced view of things, there was a study released recently which said drinking yerba mate in massive quantities lead to an increase in cancer, but this seems to only apply to smoked yerba mate [and also, most tellingly, people who smoked cigarettes in addition to drinking yerba mate]. As with anything, do your research and make your own decisions!
Tea photo by Rodney Smith.