I myself started drinking coffee late. Unimaginable for me today, but it just didn’t taste good to me and I didn’t need it. I drank an espresso now and then, which we made in a simple espresso maker on the stove back then. But when I took on a new job with two still young children, I started drinking coffee, cappuccino to be precise. At that time, a wave of coffee vending machines swept over Germany and every bakery and gas station now had café latte, espresso and cappuccino. That was at the end of the 90s. However, most people still made their filter coffee at home in the morning. In 2003, we moved to California for two years. The first thing I noticed there was that everyone got their coffee-to-go in the morning. It was at this time, at the latest, that I began to love coffee. I liked the smell in the coffee shops and the atmosphere and, of course, my cappuccino, which, by the way, always came with ‘regular’ milk back then. Because back then, soy milk was the maximum alternative. And today? Today I still love coffee, but I drink it either black or with oat milk and most of all with Oatly Barista (partner link).
"OHA, HOW DO YOU DO THAT!!!"
So when, at the end of last year, an alternative practitioner suggested, among other things, that I only drink a maximum of one coffee a day, I thought “Oha, how is that going to work?”. But on January 2, I actually began to engage in the experiment. It was combined with a change in my diet, but I’ll report on that in another post sometime. I looked forward to that one cup like a kid at Christmas. I enjoyed it and each time I got a kind of little rush with more energy and more ideas in my head. So far so good. When the two months were up, I started drinking more coffee again, just sipping at first, then I was quickly back up to three cups and would have drunk even more if I hadn’t slowed myself down.
IF COFFEE, THEN FILTER COFFEE
But why all the action?! Coffee is much better than its reputation, says Bas Kast in his nutrition compass (partner link). He has researched all serious studies about coffee and caffeine, and in general the following can be summarized – for filter coffee:
- Filter coffee lowers the risk of mortality; “Three, four, five cups of coffee a day are good for your heart,” as well as the rest of your body, especially your liver. “1
- Filter coffee is associated with a lowered risk of various forms of cancer.1
- Filter coffee reduces the risk of diabetes as well as Parkinson’s disease1.
This is also true for decaffeinated coffee, so caffeine is not the only reason for these research results. It must be emphasized once again that these results only apply to filter coffee. This is because the accompanying substances of coffee that are harmful to us – cafestol and kahweol – are largely retained in the fine paper filter, while they are drunk along with it in all other preparation methods. And so an Italian study concludes “that more than two cups of espresso per day (in contrast to filter coffee) are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as a heart attack. “1
ACRYLA ... WHAT?!
What unfortunately applies to filter coffee like espresso and what Bas Kast does not write about is the acrylamide content of coffee. I could write a separate chapter about acrylamide. I will. Therefore here only on the quick: Acrylamide increases potentially the cancer risk for consumers of all age groups. Gene mutations and tumors have been observed in animal studies. Acrylamide can form when foods containing carbohydrates are heated to high temperatures, above 120 degrees Celsius. “In the adult diet, coffee and fried or deep-fried potato products are the largest sources of acrylamide, followed by cookies, crackers, crispbread and toast. “2 You can find more sources of acrylamide here at Verbraucherzentrale Hamburg3.
In summary, filter coffee is actually good and all other coffee preparation methods are rather not recommended. My friend Sabine has the Moccamaster filter coffee maker (partner link) and is fully happy with it. And I have rediscovered my old porcelain coffee filter (partner link).
STRESS, KOFFEIN UND CORTISOL
So and now it may still be that women in particular should take a different look at coffee or caffeine.
Caffeine increases the release of cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that activates metabolic processes in the body, providing energy to the cells. We are artificially exposing our body to a stressful situation, so to speak, to which it responds by releasing glucose to make us able to react quickly. Means cortisol makes our blood glucose levels rise. This in turn makes our insulin levels rise. This causes the glucose in our blood to be taken up by our cells, which causes our blood sugar levels to drop again, and as a result, we have more fluctuating blood sugar levels. This is something we want to avoid. Because that can increase insulin resistance, a situation where the body can’t effectively release glucose into the body’s cells because the cells are less receptive to the insulin4. And high blood glucose levels are a precursor to diabetes. In Germany, 9.5 million people now already have diabetes5. A disease that would be preventable in 90-95%6 of diabetics – namely those suffering from type 2 diabetes – as its cause lies in poor diet and lack of exercise. Now I’ve drifted off, but if you chronically drink too much coffee, this can also contribute to type 2 diabetes in the long term.
WHILE YOU WERE NOT SLEEPING
In addition, caffeine can affect our sleep; how well, how long and how deeply we sleep and also how well we fall asleep. For those who have sleep problems anyway, the first thing they should do is stop drinking caffeinated beverages. For some people, just one cup in the morning is enough to make it harder for us to fall asleep in the evening. And unfortunately, our ability to tolerate caffeine also declines as we get older. In addition, women who take the pill or take hormones as part of hormone therapy also tolerate less caffeine. Caffeine is broken down more slowly in the liver when hormones are taken at the same time, because it uses the same enzyme system as the hormones. This means that the caffeine stays in the body longer7. And last but not least, our cortisol levels increase with age anyway. If we continue to consume caffeine in the same quantities as before, this leads to higher cortisol levels overall with the effects described above. Meaning, overall, as we get older, the developments that can make it harder for us to fall asleep and stay asleep through the night intensify. And therefore the physician Sara Gottfried recommends in the book “The hormone diet” (partner link) to do without caffeine at least once in the quarter for three weeks. In addition it ranks not only coffee, but also black and green tea, Energy Drinks and Cola. Yet black and green tea have only about half as much caffeine as coffee. And, to mitigate the withdrawal symptoms that can set in when you give up coffee, she advises that you switch to black and green tea first, and then slowly cut back on these two drinks as well.8 Sara Gottfried sees a vicious cycle between too much stress combined with drinking too much coffee and alcohol, eating junk food, and the resulting weight gain. If we gave up caffeine for a while, we could break this cycle. It’s at least worth a try.
ON COFFEE DEPRIVATION
For me, it was quite frightening to see that I actually got a severe headache when I simply stopped drinking coffee. And I was very tempted on that first day to quickly make myself an espresso again. You see, we have a portafilter machine at our house and also a coffee grinder – the Mignon from Eureka (affiliate link). And I love the smell of freshly ground coffee. After this research here, I will continue to enjoy the smell, but greatly reduce consumption. Especially since I unfortunately also do not sleep well and I hope to sleep better through it again.
WHAT ABOUT TEA THEN?
“I still can’t recommend coffee. Why? Because every cup of coffee is a lost opportunity to enjoy an even healthier drink instead – a cup of green tea. “9 Dr. Michael Greger writes in his German-language book “How not to die” (partner link) at the end of the chapter on coffee.
While Bas Kast sees green tea in its effect and its advantages similarly positively as filter coffee, with Dr. Michael Greger green tea is something like a small miracle machine. Green tea is said to help alleviate seasonal allergy symptoms and – even more significant – it has an anticarcinogenic effect due to the polyphenols it contains. Most of the studies cited by Dr. Greger refer to laboratory or animal experiments. This is also due to the fact that meaningful studies on humans would have to be conducted over a very long period of time, because most tumors also grow very slowly in our bodies. Such studies are very time-consuming and therefore comparatively rare. From observational studies, however, we can see that Asian women, for example, are up to five times less likely to develop breast cancer10. And this is attributed to drinking green tea, eating soy products and mushrooms.
FOURTH DAY WITHOUT COFFEE
I am now the 4th day without coffee, but not completely without caffeine. On the first day I had completely renounced and got a very bad headache, was low on energy and tired. Now I have switched to ginger tea and green tea (affiliate link) and I will try to add matcha (affiliate link) to my smoothie more often. Lemon water with cayenne pepper is also supposed to wake you up. And then there are the herbal teas, which I have underestimated so far. And I’m not talking about the usual suspects here chamomile, peppermint or fennel tea. I mean tea from lady’s mantle, walnut leaves, hop cones, hawthorn and other herbs. More on this soon in this space. For those who love coffee for its bitter taste, I recommend these two alternatives: dandelion coffee and MUD/WTR (both affiliate links).
Until then, I hope you are doing well with or without coffee. Stay healthy and have a good night’s sleep.
1. studies cited by Bas Kast in Der Ernährungskompass, p. 197ff, 2018.
2. Verbraucherzentrale.de, Acrylamid: Problematic substance in food, as of 11.04.2018 https://www.verbraucherzentrale.de/wissen/lebensmittel/lebensmittelproduktion/acrylamid-problematischer-stoff-in-lebensmitteln-13879
3. consumer advice center Hamburg, Acrylamide in food, as of 10.04.2018, https://www.vzhh.de/themen/lebensmittel-ernaehrung/schadstoffe-lebensmitteln/acrylamid-lebensmitteln
5. International Diabetes Federation, via statista, Rainer Radtke, Countries with the highest number of people with diabetes 2019 to 2045, Jan. 07, 2020, https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/241789/umfrage/laender-mit-den-meisten-diabeteserkrankten/
6. Federal Ministry of Health, Diabetes mellitus type-1 and type-2, https://www.bundesgesundheitsministerium.de/themen/praevention/gesundheitsgefahren/diabetes.html
8. Sara Gottfried, The Hormone Diet, Regulate the metabolism and lose weight successfully by rebooting the hormonal system, 2016.
9. Michael Greger, M.D., HOW NOT TO DIE, 2019, p. 353.
10. Dr. Michael Greger, HOW NOT TO DIE, 2019, p. 182