Is Coffee Healthy? The Debate Continues


is coffee healthy coffee and health antioxidants caffeineIs coffee really bad for us?  Why has it gotten such a bad rap?  In this article, I would like to make a case for this revered beverage so that coffee lovers can make informed choices about it and receive the health benefits (yes benefits!) it has to offer.

Here is a brief history:

  • The Arabica tree originates from Ethiopia.  The green bean, from the tree, was ground and mixed with animal fat and used for food to help sustain people on long expeditions.  

  • During the 600s, coffee was also used for wine and medicine.  

  • In the 1300s, Islamic monks were the first to roast coffee beans and make a special hot drink they called “gahwa.”  Gahwa was only drunk during prayer and meditation.  

  • The first coffee houses sprung up in the Middle East in the 1500s and by the 1700s, coffee became the most popular drink in all of Europe above wine and beer.  Not long after coffee travelled overseas and came to the Americas.  

  • With industrialization, the 1900s brought mass marketing and convenience.  Coffee in a can became popular and quality and freshness lost its importance.

  • Revolutionaries gathered together in coffee houses and popularized them in the 1960s.

  • The 1980s brought an explosion of coffee houses/shops and the trend has been growing exponentially since.

In its natural form, the green coffee bean has little to no taste until it has been dried and roasted.  Roasting causes caramelization to occur which exudes rich oils and complexities that bring forth over 800 different flavor components, not unlike those found in fine wines.

The words “coffee” and “caffeine” seem to be synonymous with each other but there is so much more that coffee has to offer.  Coffee is a whole food.  A whole food that contains a symphony of nutrients that work together in the human body, including bioflavonoids.  Bioflavonoids are naturally occurring plant compounds that host biological activities in the body, most notably powerful antioxidant activity.  Caffeine is just one player among many.  And yes, caffeine in isolation is a major toxin to the body (beware of energy drinks!), as with any isolated nutrient.  It is the co-factors, along with caffeine, in the whole bean that work together and make this a health-promoting beverage.   Research has shown that whole, fresh roasted coffee can have neuroprotective properties; a study in South America showed that people who drank whole bean, fresh coffee did not get Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.  

The bad news.  Because coffee is a whole food, like any other whole food it goes bad within days.  When coffee is stale, it becomes rancid.  Rancid coffee will have lost most of its nutritional value, leaving caffeine in isolation, no longer buffered by its essential co-factors.  This is harmful to the body.  As for de-caffeinated coffee, it is no better because a component (caffeine) has been removed, leaving it no longer a whole food and its benefits lost.  Whole foods have a synergy and work in perfect harmony when nothing is added and nothing is taken away (also consider denatured de-fatted foods, sugar-added foods, low carb foods, etc).

How do you know when coffee has become rancid?  If it tastes bitter and is unpalatable when black with no added cream, no sugar!  According to coffee connoisseurs, The Merchants Of Green Coffee, located in Toronto Ontario, these are the rules to ensure maximum freshness and nutritional value:

Consume 5 days after roasting, 3 hours after grinding and 15 minutes after brewing.  

So why is coffee looked down upon in the holistic health community?  

First of all, it is the most highly sprayed, pesticide laden crop in the world (non-organic), and due to mass marketing most of it pre-roasted and ground, leaving it nutritionally useless.  

Coffee is a very powerful substance and when and how much you drink it is very important.  It should always be consumed “before action but never after action.”  Coffee increases metabolism, some say up to 20%, so it works best when putting this extra energy production to good use like before exercise.  Coffee before exercise can help burn more fat and increase performance.  

Coffee immediately following a meal is a bad idea (after the action of eating).  Caffeine prematurely allows food to leave the stomach by stimulating the pyloric sphincter to open, allowing the food to empty into the intestines before it has been properly bathed in hydrochloric acid.  This is very bad for proper digestion and assimilation of foods and nutrient absorption.  

As with so many of our foods today, coffee has been abused.  We consume far too much, up to 24 ounces at one time!  We load it up with sugar, flavor shots, cream, ice cream, whipped cream and sweet syrups to the point where is literally is “a little coffee with our sugar”.   These combination abominations are so detrimental to our health and can make us insulin resistant.  Coffee with sugar in any form negates any health benefits.  Black is best.  

Coffee should be limited to 2 espresso shots or 1 cup per day for healthy individuals (equivalent to 80-100mgs caffeine) and should be drunk in the morning or before exercise only.  

It is never advised to drink coffee if pregnant, under a lot of stress, if you have anxiety disorders or poor overall health.

The good news.  Many organic roastery coffee shops are emerging as people are becoming aware of fairly traded coffees and the unique value of this nutritious, once-so-highly-prized beverage. The Merchants Of Green Coffee are an example of this.  They are a distributor of a variety of green beans from around the world and they provide the knowledge and tools you need to roast at home.  Hopefully this is where we are headed in our coffee culture.

So in defense of coffee, enjoy it, and always be sure to buy it fresh roasted, organic and fair trade (for good karma!).


By Rachel Hynd| June 28, 2011
Categories:  Eat

About the Author

Rachel Hynd

Rachel Hynd

Rachel holds a first class honors diploma from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition where she became a Certified Nutritional Practitioner (CNP) and a Registered Orthomolecular Holistic Practitioner (ROHP). She also holds an education in Psychology and Fashion Design that complements her belief of inner health reflecting outer beauty, individuality and expression and how vital this is to whole health. In addition, she is also a certified Raw Food Instructor providing her with extensive education in the field of enzymatically live food. Through nutrition, her focus is to restore health, vitality and joy while keeping it simple and having fun. Her mantra is “Change your life by changing your mind. Today is a new day!”

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