Should I Give Up Coffee?

“Are you going to make me give up coffee?” I have started many consultations with this very question. 

When someone asks, “should I give up my coffee?” my answer is usually something along the lines of, “I’m not sure. Should you?”

And then we spend some time talking about their routine, the foods and beverages they enjoy, and discuss how coffee and caffeine makes them feel. 

For lots of us, it’s not just about the potential benefits from caffeine, but also the routine of drinking a cup of coffee in the morning. It’s about the quiet house first thing in the morning, the smell of the bitter coffee brewing, and even the favorite mug we drink from. Many of us can’t start the day without a cup of coffee, and that’s ok! Coffee, and caffeine, can be part of a very healthy daily routine.

The truth about coffee as a health food has been the subject of many debates. For a while, coffee was included on the list of carcinogens, but that was reversed back in 2016. Not only was it confirmed that coffee does not cause cancers or heart disease, but when consumed in reasonable dosage, it can actually be considered a healthy food (Mo Med, 2018). Coffee contains two of the most powerful antioxidants: polyphenols and hydrocinnamic acids. Polyphenols may prevent a number of diseases including cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and type 2 diabetes while hydrocinnamic acids help neutralize free radicals and limit oxidative stress (Molecules, 2014; Antioxidants, 2018; Nutrients, 2010).

In fact, coffee consumption may be the largest source of dietary antioxidants since the average consumer drinks 2-4 cups (400-600ml) daily. 

So, why do people assume they have to give it up? If you suffer from GERD, chances are you’ve been told that caffeine is off-limits. (For a great review on why, check out this article from our very own Dr. Allison Koch). But, like so many foods, it really is about what works best for you. 

There is no one size fits all rule, so your coffee consumption really comes down to how you feel after drinking it. If a few cups leave you feeling jittery and anxious or cause heartburn or reflux, maybe 1 cup would serve you better. On the other hand, several cups of coffee can also leave you feeling more energized, more focused and alert, and even improve your workouts. Do keep in mind that while coffee can make you feel more awake, it does not change your need for sleep!

Before deciding if you should skip your morning coffee, here are a few more facts to consider:

  • Caffeine can help with headaches? Yes! Caffeine can constrict blood flow, helping headaches. Many pain relievers even contain caffeine for this reason.
  • Coffee is addictive? Technically, no, coffee is not an addictive substance. However, you can become habituated to caffeine. If you know you need to give up coffee, weaning off more slowly can help with any side effects (like headache or irritability) from the lack of caffeine.
  • So, there are no health risks to drinking coffee? Not totally true. Pregnant women should limit coffee consumption as it is associated with low birth weight. Those who have difficulty managing blood pressure should also limit their intake. 
  • Should I switch to decaf? If you are someone who gets jittery or has reflux after a few cups, then trying decaf is a good option. You can limit the caffeine while still getting some of the antioxidant benefits.
  • Last but not least, think about how you take your coffee. Do you like it black? With cream and sugar? Do you prefer a latte, a mocha, or coffee with lots of flavors/creams/sugars added? If so, it might be worth examining the extras before ditching the brew altogether. 
For optimal health, I would advise you to enjoy a cup or two of coffee as long as it makes you feel good. Combined with fruits and vegetables, coffee will boost your fiber and antioxidant intake and can absolutely be part of a healthy diet. 

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