culinary nutrition

Coffee is the world's most popular beverage.

6 billion people can't be wrong.. or can they? The current scientific research points in both directions. Some experts claim this ancient beverage is evil and causes everything from birth defects to heart disease, others claim the coffee is a cure-all from Type II Diabetes to Parkinson's disease. Some evidence even suggests that it will put hair back on your head! Sure, some of it can be true, but due to everyone's unique biochemistry - the results may vary. In my opinion, a logical way to understand if this fine beverage is for you, would be to examine the properties of coffee, your genetic heritage, and your current health condition. Also paying close attention to your body's response to coffee can be your best bet to learn if this is indeed a drink you should consume on a regular basis, once in a while or drop it all together.

< Let's examine the facts:

Coffee does not cause heart attack:

Recently published study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found earlier reports that coffee may cause heart attack inconclusive.

Coffee may reduce the risk of Diabetes Type II and possibly the risk of high Blood Cholesterol and Triglycerides:

This is thought to be due to the potent intracellular oxidation regulator compounds found in coffee and the alkaloid trigonelline - product of Niacin metabolism. Trigonelline is converted to nicotinic acid ( form of niacin, not related to nicotine in tobacco ) niacin is well known for reduction of cholesterol and triglycerides. Since the latter converts into nicotinic acid at high roasting temperatures, to get more of these benefits, you would have to drink lighter roasts of coffee, and with less or no sugar.

Coffee may increase metabolism:

Since coffee stimulates production of bile, it can increase metabolism of fats, and if the food you eat is properly combined, coffee can increase your metabolism in general.

Coffee can save your brain from aging

Recent research shows that coffee triggers a mechanism in the brain that releases a growth factor which is called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor. This mechanism stimulates stem cells to convert into new brain neurons!

Coffee can increase mental alertness:

This action can be useful if quick "pick me up" action is required. For example driving late in a day or night, when your body's energy and alertness levels are winding down. In this case to improve the ability to quickly react to sudden changes of circumstances is of great importance. But this function should be used with caution. Over consumption of caffeinated beverages, especially by people with slow metabolism, will result in anxiety and difficulties to concentrate, which may push you to behave erratically and can create embarrassing or even dangerous situations. It is because caffeine does not actually add any energy to the brain, but instead it gains full control of the energy reserved by the brain cells for emergency situations.

Coffee may play a role in gaining muscle mass:

According to the latest research, phytochemicals in coffee affect the biological mechanism that is responsible for gaining muscle weight. But the timing and the amount of coffee intake is crucial, as it can both, inhibit and stimulate this mechanism.

Coffee may reduce the risk of prostate cancer in older men:

Current studies reveal significant risk reduction of prostate cancer in middle age and older men. The mechanism tend to point to various phytochemicals and intracellular oxidation regulators in coffee. But the caffeine, is the crucial component in this mechanism as it stimulates the delivery system of those beneficial molecules.

Coffee stimulates both the voluntary(Central) and involuntary(Autonomic) nervous systems:

In this case coffee's effects on the latter could be of benefit for example: in the case of constipation it can stimulate peristaltic wave to facilitate the bowel movement
Coffee's effects on the voluntary nervous system however, are not so encouraging. It can overstimulate the Central nervous system, thereby producing a variety of annoying symptoms, such as: aforementioned anxiety, insomnia, irregular heart beat, it can exacerbate emotional instability and greatly increase existing stress levels.

Coffee may help balancing female hormones

When taken in the morning and in combination with high grade cocoa, coffee has a positive effect on female hormonal system and actually act as a calming agent. This is due to the this combinations' balancing the pH effects and the speed of caffeine delivery, as it allows complete absorption of many beneficial phytochemicals of both plants.

Caffeine in coffee inhibits the opioid receptor from binding other addictive substances:

The opioid receptors are the artifacts of the ancient brain. They are responsible for the brain signaling in early humans to differentiate between spoiled, rancid food and fresh food loaded with important nutrients. But in this day and age, when food is abundant, this mechanism is proving to be more problematic. It can stimulate addictions to many destructive substances. Caffeine being one of them.

Coffee is diuretic:

Coffee, when taken at less favorable time of the day can contribute to dehydration by way of interference with absorption of certain minerals as it binds them and takes them along when excreted.

When used incorrectly, Coffee can overtax Adrenal glands.

The Adrenal glands responsible for many important functions in your body. They produce hormones, assist in regulating metabolism and mineral balance and at work 24 hours a day. So it pays to keep them healthy.

In conclusion, I would like to offer these thoughts: Coffee is a functional beverage and can be of benefit when used correctly. The science is now beginning to uncover which of the active ingredients in coffee appear beneficial, and I foresee much more credible research coming out in the coming times. Having said that, due to the high amounts of caffeine found in coffee, it is a powerful stimulant, therefore it pays to use it wisely. If you struggling with any health conditions where effects of coffee may irritate your system, or if you struggle with caffeine absorption due to lack of certain genes, abstaining temporary or limiting the use to therapeutic consumption could be of great benefit to you and those you come in contact with. Paying attention on how the coffee affects you in any situation will most likely be the best way to test if coffee should be part of your diet. If you choose to drink this fine beverage, the best time to do so would be in the morning and after a meal containing fats or fatty proteins. Clearly drinking organically grown coffee that has not been roasted to the point of charcoal essence is best. An acceptable daily amount of caffeine varies from person to person, but generally could range up to 300 mg. Preferable method of preparations would be:
1. Espresso for it's intense taste, unique texture, and smaller amount of caffeine, due to shorter contact with water. 1 ounce shot can contain up to 35 mg of caffeine.
2. Turkish coffee for it's aromatic blend of coffee and cardamom (an aromatic herb with cleansing properties). However, it has plenty of caffeine, 1 ounce serving can contain up to 60 mg of caffeine.
3. Mocha (not the chocolate infused coffee) or Percolator is widely used in European households. It is strong and flavorful, and will fill your house with unmistakable aroma of a pressure brewed coffee. 1 ounce serving can contain up to 70 mg of caffeine.
4. French press, where you can taste the true aroma of virtually any degree of caramelization. Drink it black or with added cacao in forms of high cocoa content or powder for therapeutic reasons or with some half n half or even some fresh cream for luscious taste and texture. Try adding coconut milk for a different taste. Pace yourself, as 1 cup serving may contain up to 300 mg of caffeine.

Few words on decaffeinated coffee:

There are two widely practiced methods of decaffeinating the coffee. One involves the use of chemical solvents and often used in most commercial brands. This method isn't desirable because it adds toxic elements to coffee and possibly destroying it's medicinal properties. Second method simply involves soaking the coffee beans in water, then dehydrating and roasting the coffee. Neither methods completely decaffeinate the beans, so if you looking to avoid caffeine all together , it would be wise to avoid the coffee entirely.
Some other common beverages containing large amounts of caffeine include: Tea (unless specified otherwise), Sodas both classic and diet, Ice teas, Red Bull. In the latest madness of GMO foods, there is a genetically altered bean in the making that will have it's caffeine spawning gene knocked out.

By Eli Katz. Updated on / 06.03.11

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