By Corina Tan
Perhaps one of the most controversial drinks in recent years is coffee. Once upon a time, coffee was seen in a negative light because it was reported to cause various adverse effects like changes in mood, unusual bodily symptoms like jittery hands, shakiness, increased anxiousness, heart palpitations, headaches, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), diarrhoea, stomach aches and sleep disorders, to name a few. Some have even connected coffee to an increased risk of miscarriages, cancer and heart issues like atrial fibrillation and hypertension, but what is the truth about this staple drink that keeps people pumped up and going all through the day, every day?
The past 25 years have yielded better quality data and expanded our understanding of coffee’s impact on health. There seems to be no conclusive evidence that supports the belief that coffee is bad. The American Institute for Cancer Research puts coffee on the list of cancer-fighting foods because of its high antioxidant content, and in fact, it’s even one of the best drinks to prevent clogged arteries. While overconsumption can result in some unpleasant symptoms, especially if taken together with some medications that interact adversely with caffeine, a moderate amount of pure coffee without additives contains anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. One thing to keep in mind though is that the benefits studied are purely for the consumption of coffee alone. This means that with added sugar, milk or any high-fat cream products, these additions may negate any health benefits found in coffee.
Dietary habits as a whole are all about balance and moderation, so if you add a moderate amount of sugar to your coffee and that is about your only source of added sugar in a day, then it may not be so bad. Plus, if you can forego the highly processed creamer and milk entirely, go for plant-based almond milk, pure maple syrup, or even make your own healthy creamer at home, you may be much better off than having your regular daily coffee fix with conventional sugar and milk or cream.
Coffee in itself contains antioxidants that lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, gall stones, liver cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, Alzheimer’s disease, reduces inflammation, enhances focus and is also linked to longevity. However, the healthiest cup is not the same for everyone. How your body processes and metabolises caffeine makes a difference in which coffee is best for you. Smokers, for example, are less sensitive to caffeine because smoking induces the production of liver enzymes that break down and metabolises caffeine very quickly. On top of that, health conditions and medication may have interactions that directly impact your intake of coffee, thus affecting you.
How healthy a cup of coffee is also depends on the type of bean, the brand, the roast, the brewing method, and the temperature. Very dark roasts tend to have lower antioxidant content, and very light roasts have high caffeine content. If you are trying to fight disease with an anti-inflammatory diet, the healthiest cup might include cinnamon or turmeric. If weight management is your goal, plain unadulterated coffee has no calories, whereas adding sugar, whipped cream, dairy creamers and flavourings make a high-calorie unhealthy drink. Whether you have a preference for light, medium or dark roast, you can select the type of bean that gives you the most benefit. While light-roasted Robusta beans have more antioxidants, Arabica beans when medium or dark-roasted is the one to drink. When considering brewing methods, the AeroPress technique retains the highest level of antioxidants and essential nutrients like magnesium, manganese, chromium, cobalt and potassium. The AeroPress filter also decreases the number of oily substances or diterpenes which have been found to elevate ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol in heavy coffee drinkers. While the brewing temperature itself may be insignificant, leaving your coffee on the burner too long or overboiling it may cause any beneficial contents to diminish.
If you want to keep things simple, the biggest nutritional bang for your buck is by simply adding less to your brew. There is no research-backed conclusion on which kind of coffee is the healthiest, but what is consistently certain is that eliminating sweeteners, creamers and going for a medium-roast black coffee is probably the best choice you could make. One key consideration is to not go overboard on the amount consumed in a day and rotate your coffee beans so you drink a variety of roasts. If black coffee just doesn’t make the cut, try spicing up your coffee with turmeric, cinnamon, nutmeg or unsweetened cocoa powder. This way, you can add antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, plus you may just be able to wean off sugar in the process.