Coffee: The Lesser of Two Evils?

The kids kept you up half the night, you had to get up early for a conference call and it’s only 11 am and you’re wondering how you are going to make it through the day. You’ve already had 2 cups of coffee and you meander over to the break room wondering if you should go for the quick sugar fix or have another morning Joe.  You tell yourself the homemade brownies are looking good but wonder what is the lesser of two evils?  Brownies or coffee? You have at least 6 more hours-worth of work so what is going to help get through the quick sand you are now feeling in your body?

What is the REAL story on coffee?  Is it healthful or NOT?  After, all it’s almost impossible to walk more than two blocks without passing multiple coffee establishments, whether it’s Starbuck’s, Peet’s, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf or a smaller chain.  Statically speaking, Americans consume an average of 3 cups of coffee per day and almost 9.3 billion kilograms consumed worldwide per year.

With the widespread increase in coffee consumption, and the availability of coffee, the question regarding whether coffee is healthful or not needs answers.

The Good News:

Coffee is a rich source of polyphenols, plant-derived chemicals that have been linked to improved health, decreased risk of chronic diseases and have an antioxidant role in the body. Antioxidants are in charge of cleaning up the havoc that unhealthy lifestyle choices can have. Epidemiological research studies (meaning cause and effect) show the antioxidants in coffee may help protect again carcinogens like tobacco, and possibly lower risk of metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels.

The Not-So-Good News:

However, before you go for the third cup, the drawbacks are researched as well.  Caffeine in coffee can be detrimental for sleep, stress and increasing the important hormone cortisol.  Drinking excess cups of coffee can leave you wired during the day and evening hours, which increases stress in the body, leading to high blood pressure.  In addition, those at risk for GERD (reflux), or ulcers should avoid or minimize coffee. Lastly, because coffee comes from a plant it can be sprayed with pesticides. Therefore, choosing organic coffee may decrease the amount of toxins entering your body, and lower other side effects above.

So the Take Home?

If you enjoy a cup or two of coffee per day and don’t have any of the above health ramifications it may be a healthful source of antioxidants.  If you don’t drink your coffee black, consider using a small amount of half and half or cream and minimizing sugar and avoiding sweeteners, which are linked to other health issues.

If coffee is a problem for you, consider drinking tea which is easier on the blood pressure, and does away with the side effects for most individuals.  Tea contains antioxidants as well and does not stimulate cortisol like coffee.

So is coffee the lesser of two evils?  Absolutely! Coffee is better than sugar for the morning pick me up but if it presents a problem for you then tea is an equally good alternative. Maybe the English had it right all along.

This blog was co-written by Susan Dopart and Nutrition Intern Raquel Papu