Clearly, there are grounds for debate here: Is coffee poison or a health tonic?
Let’s examine some of the major claims and determine if they are fact or fiction.
THERE’S NO DEFINITIVE RESEARCH ON WHETHER COFFEE IS
HEALTHY OR UNHEALTHY
When looking at the entire body of research on coffee, this first point is perhaps the most important to drive home, especially as you read the rest of this article. Quite simply, there’s no consensus on coffee (or most foods, for that matter) as a “health” food.
Look closely and you’ll see observational literature on coffee’s benefits that associate it with lower body weight and a lower incidence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It also offers protection from type 2 diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.
Still more studies highlight coffee’s link to increased risk of heart disease and gastrointestinal funk. What’s the deal? The nebulous conclusions on coffee’s safety are such for a couple of key reasons:
- The preponderance of coffee studies are actually caffeine studies, not studies of coffee itself. Coffee contains acids, oils, and varying levels of antioxidant compounds that interact with each other and your body in ways that cannot be accurately controlled nor be directly compared to the intake of caffeine in its purest form.
- Your ability to metabolize caffeinated coffee depends in part on genetic factors, specifically a gene called CYP1A2, which governs how well or quickly your body can remove coffee and caffeine.If you are someone who experiences a feel-good boost in energy, you may benefit most from coffee and caffeine. It is also in these particular coffee drinkers that researchers find protection from heart disease.Based on the scattered evidence, it seems the “slow metabolizers” might do more harm (e.g. higher chance of heart attacks, intense jitters, and high blood pressure) than good from regular coffee consumption.
- The caffeine in coffee interacts with a number of neurotransmitters and hormones in the body, resulting in varied responses from study to study and person to person. These, of course, depend on the amount of coffee and caffeine consumed, what is eaten with the coffee, and the person’s body.
- Caffeine content varies depending on where you get it (McDonalds versus Starbucks), what beans you use (arabica versus robusta), the roasting temperature, and how the beans are brewed. All these variables can influence outcomes depending on what the researchers look at.Currently, it’s a tall order to conduct coffee studies with standardized batches whose chemical compounds are exactly the same, due to variations in climate, harvesting cycles, processing, roasting, and brewing.
- Finally, there doesn’t seem to be a standard as to what is considered low, moderate, or high intake of coffee. The four daily cups that would send jitters through one person might just be a warm-up for someone else.
As you can see, there’s no way to objectively declare beyond the shadow of a doubt that coffee is a miracle drug sent from the heavens for everyone. Research supports that coffee still boasts a rich antioxidant profile (even more than dark chocolate) and other bioactive compounds, at least for people who metabolize coffee and caffeine well.
Basically, if you already drink coffee and don’t feel lousy afterward, fill up and enjoy your cup (or more) of Joe! If not, just dial it back but still enjoy that occasional cup.
COFFEE HELPS WITH FAT LOSS
Coffee lovers looking to get shredded, rejoice!
When coffee enters the body, it means bad news for excess body fat. Brace yourself, it’s about to get a little nerdy: The caffeine from coffee induces a fat-releasing effect called lipolysis, in which fat molecules within fat stores are cleaved into free fatty acids (and glycerol). As a result, you have a bunch of free fatty acids shooting around in your bloodstream, injecting you with that sensation of being able to punch through brick walls.
Well, now you have all these liberated free fatty acids that your body can use—instead of carbs or lean muscle—to fuel your workout or whatever task is at hand. The combination of a hard workout and the inflated number of free fatty acids result in an increase in fatty acid oxidation. So caffeine promotes fat burning (yay!).
OK, then why isn’t your average coffee guzzler already lean and on the cover of fitness magazines? One possibility is that they’re taking in too much caffeine, which can promote chronically elevated levels of cortisol (the anti-fat loss hormone, in a nutshell) and increasingly dull the effects of caffeine.
A more likely reason is that many coffee drinkers dump milk and every variety of sugar (double chocolate chip cookie dough caramel hazelnut delight Frappuccino, anyone?) into their drink. While tasty, these caloric bombs simply blunt fat loss and negate coffee’s benefits in surreptitious ways.
Yet another possibility is that people simply don’t make use of the free-floating fatty acids, which get recycled back into fat depots, if left unused, after some time.
Now you may point out that caffeine should get the credit for weight loss, not coffee as the original claim says. But actually, decaffeinated coffee has also been associated with weight loss. Further, a study on mice looked at whether regular coffee consumption is correlated with reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Although the coffee and caffeine extract group both experienced attenuated fat gain, the “real coffee” group saw a more pronounced expression of hunger-regulating hormone leptin and effect on the “bad” visceral fat stores. Based on this, it’s worth mentioning that consuming the whole coffee (as opposed to isolated extracts) exerts other supplemental health benefits on the whole body.
What can you take away from this? To take full advantage of coffee’s fat burning effects, you should avoid pumping your coffee full of cream and sugar, and move around (stand up and walk around) as you drink it. I’m sure you can walk and drink coffee at the same time.
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