Kitchen Tips

Is coffee good or bad for me? A nutritionist's opinion

Holistic nutritionist Natalie Brady delves into a commonly asked question:“Is coffee bad for me?” Discover the pros and cons of consuming the world's favourite caffeinated beverage.

By Natalie Brady
"In my opinion the answer completely depends on the individual. For most people it depends on how your body metabolises caffeine. Some people are "fast metabolisers" and some people are "slow metabolisers" due to a gene called CYP1A2, which basically means your body processes caffeine slowly.
Fast metabolisers can often tolerate a lot more caffeine than slow metabolisers. In fact there are many more health benefits of caffeine for fast metabolisers; some studies have shown that depression decreased with increased caffeine intake from fast metabolisers. On the flip slide if you think you might be a slow metaboliser and experience some of the negative symptoms listed below (listen and tune into your body post-caffeine), you may want to consider cutting back on the amount of coffee you drink."
Here are some of the pros and cons of caffeine consumption.

Potential problems from drinking coffee

• Caffeine and your dependence on it
If you are relying on caffeine to wake you up in the morning and get through the day in whatever form (coffee, energy drinks, numerous black teas) you may need to re-think your morning drink!
Do you know what you feel like without caffeine in your system? If you cannot survive without a daily caffeine hit, you may need to reassess your current health (diet and lifestyle) and ask yourself why. Are you replacing a meal with coffee? Are you not eating enough protein or fats with your meals to sustain your blood sugar levels? Are you not sleeping well? I always tell my clients "If you depend on it, it's a problem". But if it's for pleasure and you don't suffer from any of the negative side effects of it, then you're okay.
• Stress and anxiety
Caffeine from coffee is stimulant. For some people consuming too much coffee can cause heart palpitations and increase feelings of anxiety or jitteriness. If you're an anxious person or have high stress levels, coffee might not be for you.
• Hormonal health
If you have PCOS, endometriosis or any other hormonal imbalance you may need to consider either decreasing your caffeine intake or avoiding it all together. When your body is under stress it releases a hormone called cortisol; this is a normal stress response but what's not normal is extremely high levels of cortisol. As caffeine is a stimulant which can increase the stress response, in a stressed individual caffeine can increase cortisol levels, which can disrupt hormonal balance.
• Disrupted sleep
As everyone metabolises caffeine differently (mentioned above), those who are slow caffeine metabolisers may suffer from sleep disturbances. Be mindful and listen to what your body is telling you. If you're having poor quality (broken and easily disrupted) sleep, try avoiding coffee after midday or avoid it all together until you've established a healthy sleep routine. We are all individuals, and being aware of how caffeine affects you is something you may need to be more in-tune with.
• Nutrient absorption
Caffeine can affect your body's absorption of minerals such as iron, magnesium, calcium which for some can lead to deficiencies, particularly in iron deficiency anemia.
• Can cause weight gain
Eating and exercise aren't the only things that can impact our weight and health. Physical and emotional stress also affects our nervous system and can tip it into the 'fight or flight' mode, causing weight gain. In an already stressed individual whose cortisol and adrenaline levels are high, excesses caffeine intake will further increases these hormones, resulting in fat storage (due to the perceived stressed response the body is under). If this sounds like you limiting coffee to one or none a day could be worth while.
Now that you are aware of some of the negative effects that caffeine can have on your health, let's look at the positive effects.

Potential benefits from drinking coffee

• Mental alertness, focus and enhanced performance
Caffeine increases blood flow and circulation to your muscles, and given it's a stimulant it can give you that extra push at the gym! Some studies show that drinking caffeine pre-workout can not only enhance your performance but also help you to burn more calories. Caffeine also increases activity in the brain by blocking a neurotransmitter called adenosine and increasing the release of other neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine. This helps to reduce tiredness and makes us feel more alert.
• May help protect against Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease
Some studies have shown that regular coffee drinkers have a lower risk of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease and risk of dementia in old age.
• It's high in antioxidants
While of course you should increase your intake of whole foods such as vegetables and fruit to increase your antioxidants, coffee might be another great addition if you can tolerate it well.
• Diabetes and metabolic syndrome
Some studies show that coffee may help improve blood sugar control and reduce weight by drinking 1-2 cups per day.
• Can help chronic liver disease
Some studies show that coffee can decrease the risk of cirrhosis and chronic hepatitis C in individuals with chronic liver disease.
So what's the answer? Well… it depends. Like everything in life, it should be consumed in moderation. I personally get anxious if I consume too much caffeine, and it can disrupt my hormones and upset my gut. I've also never been a huge coffee drinker as I don't absolutely love the taste like many people do, but I do enjoy a couple of cups a week mainly if I go out for breakfast in the weekend.
If you're a coffee lover, don't get anxious, aren't overly stressed, don't have a hormonal imbalance or sleep issues then enjoying 1-2 cups a day before 12pm may serve you well (with no added sugar of course!).
For recipes, tips and inspiration from Natalie, visit www.nataliebrady.co.nz