By Rachel Fiske
Coffee is the most commonly consumed beverage after water, yet there is a ton of confusion surrounding its health risks and benefits. A typical cup of coffee contains about 100 mg of caffeine (although this can be much more if you make your coffee particularly strong), and also provides a wide variety of nutrients and antioxidants. For you coffee drinkers out there, the bottom line is this: for many people, coffee can be a healthy part of a balanced diet, and even offer some real benefits. For those following a low carb diet model, the same rules apply. However, if you suffer from anxiety, insomnia, or certain other conditions, coffee can be harmful.
Are there nutrients in coffee?
Aside from caffeine which is the main ingredient, an 8 oz. cup of coffee contains the following nutrients, all in quantities under 10% of RDA recommendations: Vitamins B1, 2, 3 and 5 (B2 in the highest quantity at 11%), folate, manganese, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus. Also, coffee contains high amounts of antioxidants such as hydrocinnamic acids and polyphenols, which are important in protecting our bodies against free radical damage (molecules that can damage our cell structure).
Depending on your level of consumption, these nutrients can add up in your daily diet and provide benefits. While this is far from ideal, the reality is that your typical coffee drinker in the United States actually takes in more nutrients from their coffee than from fruits and vegetables on a daily basis.
Coffee roasts and processing methods:
We’ll get to caffeine in a moment, but one of the worries discussed in the coffee debate are the presence of mycotoxins, which are toxic chemicals produced by certain molds that can grow on foods such as grains, coffee, and peanut butter. While these chemicals can certainly be harmful in high doses, the amount found in some coffee beans and the drink itself is well under the safety limit. Additionally, studies have shown that mycotoxins are found in many foods we eat, and we must remember that when considering the dangers of ingesting any toxin, the amount is what matters. A Spanish study conducted in 2012 shows that common levels of mycotoxins found in foods are as low as 3% of the limit deemed safe by authorities (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22394208).
What about caffeine?
The question as to whether caffeine is harmful simply depends on the individual and their specific level of sensitivity. A person’s degree of sensitivity depends on their genetic make-up, specifically, the activity of a certain enzyme responsible for caffeine metabolism. For some, it is; in fact, best avoided.
If you’re really interested to know, you can actually do caffeine metabolism testing which will look at your specific level of sensitivity. Genomic Express Lab offers a test exclusively looking at caffeine metabolism, which costs $99.
Caffeine is a stimulant, as it prompts our adrenal glands to secrete the hormone adrenaline. Our adrenal glands are responsible for producing our bodies’ stress hormones, including adrenaline, cortisol and others. For some coffee drinkers, this probably won’t cause any problems, but for those that suffer from symptoms of anxiety, insomnia and/or are a slow metabolizer, you can experience negative side effects such as nervousness or even increased risk of heart attack (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16522833). But, for a healthy person, caffeine and coffee can actually boost our ability to burn fat, and increase our brain and liver function (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16522833).
Other potential benefits of coffee (and these of course vary person to person) include increased physical performance, decreased risk of type II diabetes, and maybe even living a longer life (primarily due to high antioxidant content).
While coffee contains the highest concentration of caffeine, you’ll also get it from food sources such as chocolate, kola nuts, yerba mate, black, green and white teas. In non-natural forms, caffeine is found in many sodas, energy drinks, and decaf coffee, as well. As with so many questions in the world of nutrition, the answer really comes down to moderation and individual metabolism and nutritional needs. If coffee feels problematic for you, it just might be.
Carb Manager is the easiest and most powerful way to count carbs and live the low carb life. In this blog, we've invited experts on LCHF to contribute their views on everything low carb.