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Things You Need To Know About Health and Coffee

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I drink my fair share of coffee. Most days I start with a couple cups, which can turn into four or five by the afternoon. I haven't always been an avid coffee drinker though, and began drinking coffee just a few years ago when I realized that it had some potentially incredible health benefits. Prior to that, I was completely anti-caffeine. From a young age I'd always heard that caffeine was addictive and bad for you, so I steered clear. Well, much like many other commonly-believed nutrition myths, this is not the truth- or at least not the entire truth.

My reasons for embracing coffee?

- Antioxidants in coffee can help with fat loss because they inhibit sugar absorption in the digestive process.
- Coffee decreases the risk of total mortality (ie, dying early), including a lowered risk of a variety of cancers, lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, and lowered risk of type-2 diabetes.
- Coffee increases metabolic rate, leading to increased fat burning and improved body composition.
- Caffeine (not necessary coffee, but caffeine specifically) can lead to increases in power & strength.

Other interesting things about coffee...

- In overweight and obese individuals, drinking coffee can decrease appetite and lead to less calories consumed in subsequent meals, resulting in less calories consumed overall.
- Coffee, despite popular belief, does not lead to dehydration and is a mild diuretic at best (coffee is 95% water, of course it makes you pee!).

But before we get ahead of ourselves...

Not all humans are created equal. Although there are numerous benefits to drinking coffee, not everyone is equipped to take advantage. The issue is that people vary genetically in how well they can process caffeine and coffee. Due to this, there are two types of coffee responders:

- Slow metabolizers of caffeine don't process caffeine effectively and are adversely affected by caffeine, with jittery symptoms potentially lasting several hours. Example: a friend of mine who can't even drink a can of Dr. Pepper without being up all night.
- Fast metabolizers of caffeine get a boost in energy and alertness for an hour or two. Example: myself, who can drink 4 cups of coffee before feeling any boost in energy.

Due to this difference, slow metabolizers should avoid drinking coffee, or keep consumption to an absolute minimum. Consequences of drinking coffee for slow metabolizers include things like disrupted sleep patterns and amplified PMS symptoms, to increased blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, other than taking a DNA test, there is no way to truly determine how well your body metabolizes coffee. The best advice I can give is that if coffee doesn't make you feel great, it's likely in your best interest to lay off.

Do double-doubles, frappuccinos and other fancy coffee beverages have the same health effects?

The simple answer is no, they do not. Yes, black coffee is amazing because it is packed full of antioxidants and can have a positive effect on metabolism, but adding things like sugar, cream and milk can quickly diminish these benefits. A medium Tim Horton's double-double for example, contains more than 10g of fat and 20g of sugar, for more than 200 calories. As I've mentioned before, sugar is one of the most harmful substances to the human body, so consuming a medium double-double is no better for you than an old-fashioned plain donut (which has a near-identical macronutrient profile), and other sugar-laden coffee drinks can be even worse (and don't even get me started on energy drinks, aka, poison).

Research also seems to indicate that coffee can actually amplify the negative effects of an unhealthy diet high in processed carbs (refined sugars and starches). The more unhealthy the lifestyle (sedentary, low protein, high carbohydrate diet), the less beneficial the coffee. So when you're consuming your black coffee along with a donut, don't expect to reap any health benefits from the situation.

So should I drink black coffee all day, every day?

Even though I love coffee, I do my best to limit my consumption to the morning hours. My reasoning behind this is that cortisol levels (responsible for breaking down energy stores) are naturally elevated in the morning and decrease throughout the day. Coffee also transiently raises cortisol levels, so drinking coffee first thing in the morning when levels are already high can theoretically increase fat burning. Later in the day, especially after workouts, we want to be more anabolic (muscle-building) than catabolic, and therefore don't want to consume anything that will adversely affect our naturally declining cortisol levels. Chronically elevated cortisol levels also lead to a variety of detrimental health issues, so it is best to limit coffee consumption to a small window of your day.

It's also important to note that coffee has shown to increase testosterone in men but decrease testosterone and increase estrogen levels in women. As a fat burning tool, coffee is therefore much more valuable for men as it puts them in a muscle-building state while creating a hormonally fat storing environment in women. This makes it doubly important for women not to consume refined carbs with their coffee.

Futhermore, studies have shown that caffeine ingestion within 6 hours of sleep can cause significant disruptions in sleep quality, so as much as coffee can be a beneficial substance, it's best to keep consumption to the morning hours.

Moral of the story?

- Listen to your body. If you feel good when you drink coffee, you are likely a fast metabolizer. If you feel weird, you could quite possibly be a slow metabolizer. If it makes you feel good, you should drink coffee and reap the benefits. If it doesn't, don't force the issue because your body is likely unequipped to handle caffeine and drinking coffee could very well be detrimental to your overall health.
- Drink coffee in the morning, and at the latest right after lunch. Drinking coffee in the afternoon and evening disrupts sleep patterns and is less beneficial for your health.
- Ideal consumption seems to be between 1-3 cups daily, although more can be better for some individuals.
- Drink your coffee black, or at the very least, without adding sugar. Try adding cinnamon to your coffee grinds or coconut oil for added flavour.
- For the highest quality (and most beneficial) coffee, buy freshly roasted beans, grind them at home, and store your beans in an air-tight container at room temperature (freezing beans will cause them to absorb moisture and smells from other foods in the freezer).

And that's the 411 on coffee. For most, coffee is a very healthy addition to a well-balanced diet. Just be sure to drink coffee and not a liquid coffee-flavoured dessert.

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