By Libby Limon BSc NT MBANT, Head of Nutrition at VITL.
Coffee is the most popular drink worldwide with around two billion cups consumed every day(1). For a lot of people, coffee is a ‘guilty pleasure’ or something they have to have before they can even function in the morning. But how much of a problem is this, if one at all? Could coffee potentially be a health boosting ‘superfood’?
Coffee is well regarded as having a pleasant taste and delicious aroma, however there are also physiological and psychoactive properties which are well worth taking note of. The caffeine in coffee increases mental alertness and faster information processing, which is something that is increasingly appealing in the fast-paced world we live in.
Besides caffeine, coffee also contains many bioactive chemicals, including antioxidants. Studies have shown that, in some cases, coffee has decreased the incidence of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cognitive impairment and Parkinson’s disease (2). A component in coffee - unrelated to caffeine - has been linked to protection against the onset of Alzheimer’s disease (3) and improved insulin sensitivity. Links to the promotion of regeneration of injured muscle have also been discovered (4).
Something to take account of when looking at the health benefits of coffee is how each individual body works. How well one’s body reacts to coffee can differ from person to person. More specifically, this can depend on an enzyme expressing gene (called CYP1A2) in your liver. This gene produces the enzyme that metabolises the caffeine. For some people it produces an enzyme that is super ‘fast’ at removing the caffeine from the body, whereas other people produce a ‘slow’ enzyme which is significantly less efficient. So if you have the ‘fast’ gene you are unlikely to feel the ‘energy’ boosting effects from the caffeine, and any pick-me-up you get from your coffee will be purely psychosomatic.
If you are a slow metaboliser you have to be more careful about your caffeine intake. It’s good news for you if you are pairing it up with exercise to improve performance and increase fat burning and even if you are a slow metabolizer you can build up a tolerance, just be wary you are not overdoing it as this can have a negative effect on your nervous system, contributing to stress and anxiety, or poor sleep. If you’re a slow metaboliser, it would be better to choose decaffeinated. This way you will get all the other benefits coffee’s antioxidants have to offer without over stimulating the body with caffeine. Always choose quality organic coffee that has been decaffeinated via the water method, as other chemical processes strip out the beneficial elements.
As with anything, the quality of the coffee you drink is very important. Organic coffee has both health and environmental benefits. Organic coffee has a reduced impact on the environment as pesticides contribute to soil erosion and polluted water from soil run off. The lack of any toxic residues of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, artificial flavours, colours or preservatives make organic coffee a healthier option than its non-organic alternative as pesticides have also been shown to have negative health implications (5).
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Cavalli, L. and Tavani, A. (2016) ‘Coffee consumption and its impact on health’, in Beverage Impacts on Health and Nutrition. Springer Science + Business Media, pp. 29–47.
Dirks-Naylor, A.J. (2015) ‘The benefits of coffee on skeletal muscle’, Life Sciences, 143, pp. 182–186. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2015.11.005.
Libby Limon is a degree certified Nutritional Therapist with her own practice in London and is also the in-house nutritionist at VITL. VITL are a UK based start-up making expertly formulated nutrition packs using the highest quality, most sustainably sourced ingredients. All VITL vitamins are 100% free from fillers and other potentially harmful bulking agents to ensure maximum absorption.