Coffee often gets a bad rap, based on everything ranging from its caffeine content to the stains it leaves on your teeth. But the truth is that the benefits to this beverage far outweigh many of the perceived negatives associated with it. What’s often overlooked is the fact that coffee is so much more than just caffeine.
In its original form, it’s a whole food that contains a plethora of beneficial nutrients and antioxidants. The key is knowing where to find high-quality coffee and how to avoid losing any of its health benefits by decreasing its nutrient content or adding harmful substances, like artificial ingredients.
Since I’ve been an expat living in places like Panama and Costa Rica, home of some of the best coffee in the world, I’ve had access to some of tastiest brews you’ll ever find. The availability of such amazing coffee beans makes opting for coffee an easy choice.
But here are a few reasons you should seek out delicious roasts no matter what part of the world you live in.
In one Spanish study, athletes who drank the equivalent of 12 ounces of coffee before working out burned roughly 15% more calories for as much as three hours after exercising. Even if you don’t work out, drinking coffee has also been proven to boost your metabolism by 10 to 20%, for those who drink one to two cups per day.
Drinking a five ounce cup of coffee has been proven to cause a 30% boost in capillary blood flow, according to a Japanese study. This level of increased blood circulation results in better oxygenation of your body’s tissues which has a number of benefits, such as improved performance in physical activities.
Research from the University of Illinois determined that two to three cups of coffee can decrease participants’ perceived level of pain, in this case following a workout. These findings were repeated in a University of Georgia study where participants reported a 48% decrease in muscle soreness, vs. 30% and 25% with naproxen and aspirin, respectively.
Not only can coffee decrease your perceived level of pain during physical exertion, it can also decrease your perceived level of exertion. By reducing the amount of energy you feel you’re expending (by more than 5%), your exercise actually feels easier. As a result, drinking coffee before working out can improve exercise performance by more than 11%, since you feel like you’re exerting less energy.
When you drink coffee, your brain releases a substance called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which supports the powerhouse of your muscles. Without this essential factor, muscles are more likely to experience atrophy. Essentially, the caffeine in coffee helps stave off age-related strength loss, which can also reduce your risk of injuries.
In addition to the important chemicals coffee causes your brain to create, it’s also useful in blocking others, since as the inhibitory neurotransmitter Adenosine. This allows for the increase of other neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine, which improve the firing of your brain’s neurons. What results is an improvement in various areas of brain function, such as reaction times, vigilance, and general cognitive function.
Another important brain function supported by coffee consumption, so important it’s worth mentioning separately, is enhanced memory. Drinking two eight-ounce cups of coffee per day has been proven to improve long-term memory.
Coffee has also been linked to a lower rate of depression, especially in women. Those who consume as many as four eight-ounce cups per day have been found to lower their depression risk by as much as 20%. This lowered risk is due to the fact that coffee also has an impact on the production of brain chemicals like serotonin and dopamine.
So far, coffee has been linked to a lowered risk for both liver and colorectal cancer, the world’s third and fourth most common. Coffee drinkers appear to be at a 40% lower risk for liver cancer and a 15% lower risk of colorectal cancer if they drink four to five cups per day. Links have also been found between coffee drinkers and a lower risk of basal cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer.
Studies over the years have claimed that consuming caffeine can increase your blood pressure. While this is true, the effect has been determined to be quite small and generally only present in those who don’t drink coffee regularly. Studies have not supported the idea that coffee increases the risk of heart disease, and in fact there’s evidence that it can reduce the risk in some individuals, particularly in women. Coffee drinkers are also at a 20 percent lower risk of stroke.
In addition to preventing cancer of the liver, coffee has also been shown to prevent other common diseases affecting the liver, such as hepatitis and fatty liver disease. Coffee can also protect against cirrhosis of the liver, where the organ is majorly damaged by scar tissue, by as much as an 80% lower risk in people who drink four or more cups each day.
Gout is a condition caused by an increase in uric acid in the blood. Drinking six cups of coffee lowered the risk of gout in men by a whopping 59%.
Type 2 Diabetes is an affliction that currently affects around 300 million people across the world. And coffee drinkers have the ability to reduce their risk with every cup of coffee they drink. Results from various studies seem to indicate around a 7% reduction in risk for every cup consumed, with the heaviest coffee drinkers lowering the risk by as much as 67%.
This benefit seems pretty obvious. It’s the reason many people turn to their morning cup of joe. And there’s no doubt coffee can give you that extra boost you need, especially when you’ve had insufficient sleep. This is due to the caffeine which acts as a stimulant that helps you feel more alert and focused. It also gives you a boost in energy and helps you keep going when you’re low on stamina.
Studies at both the University of Miami and the University of South Florida have found a proven link between coffee consumption and a reduced risk in dementia, of which Alzheimer’s is one type. In fact, those who consumed around three cups each day were also 65% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Coffee drinkers also have a lower risk, around 32 to 60%, of developing Parkinson’s disease, another top neurodegenerative disease.
While it’s uncertain in exactly what ways drinking coffee lowers your risk of death, there definitely seems to be a correlation. Research performed by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) determined that people who drink three or more cups each day are at a 10% lower risk of death. Perhaps the most important ramification of this study is that drinking coffee does not seem to adversely affect your health, as earlier research seemed to indicate.
There’s more to love about coffee than just the caffeine it contains. In fact, there’s much more. Coffee has been found to contain a tremendous amount of antioxidants. In fact, many people in Western culture get more antioxidants from coffee than they do from fruits and vegetables combined! Other important ingredients include riboflavin (11% of the RDA), potassium (3%), magnesium and niacin (2% each). These amounts are increased if you drink more than one cup per day.
Recent years have seen the increasing popularity of fair trade coffee, which protects small coffee farmers worldwide. As fair trade organizations work to improve farmers’ rights and earning potential, they also promote social, economic, and environmental sustainability. They also encourage shade-grown and organic coffee, part of what makes the beans grown in places like Costa Rica superior to those you might get from larger commercial distributors.
There’s even good news for those of you who don’t prefer the taste of coffee. Researchers at the Seoul National University found that sleep-deprived rats who were exposed to the scent of coffee experienced a decrease in brain proteins that cause stress. It’s worth noting that this reduction in stress was tied specifically to stress resulting from sleep deprivation. For now.
Being happy is healthy, right? And for those who love coffee, there’s nothing better than that familiar warmth and taste that gets you going each morning, or any time of the day.
To get the full benefits of your java, there are a few important factors you should consider. First is the fact that, since many of these benefits are directly linked to the caffeine in coffee, you won’t get the same perks from decaf. You can also decrease the health benefits by adding things like artificial sweeteners and creamers. Additionally, while coffee can certainly help you resist fatigue, drinking it in excess can lead to adrenal exhaustion.
It’s also a diuretic, so drinking too much can result in dehydration. To get the maximum benefit from your coffee, opt for whole coffee beans and grind them right before you’re ready to brew your coffee. You’ll also want to go with organic coffee beans, since those that aren’t pesticide-free are often among the most heavily-sprayed crops in existence. The best way to find beans that are free of chemicals is to look for the 100% Organic seal or, like me, visit a local coffee farm and buy them directly from the grower. Your taste buds and your health will thank you. Cheers!
Featured photo credit: Latte art / coffee art made by barista via shutterstock.com
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