I didn’t start drinking coffee until late. This is unimaginable for me today, but I simply didn’t like it and I didn’t need it. From time to time I would drink an espresso, which we used to make in a simple stovetop espresso maker. But when I took on a new job with two still small children, I started drinking coffee, cappuccino to be precise. At that time, a wave of coffee machines was sweeping across Germany, and every bakery and gas station now had lattes, espresso and cappuccino. That was at the end of the 90s. But 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 grabbed a coffee-to-go in the morning. From that time on I started loving coffee. I liked the smell in the coffee shops and the atmosphere and of course my cappuccino, at the time with ‘regular’ milk. The only popular alternative back then was soymilk. And today? Today I still love coffee, but I drink it either black or with oat milk, preferably Oatly Barista (associate link).
“OH, HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?!”
At the end of last year, when an alternative practitioner suggested I should only drink one cup of coffee a day at most, I thought, “Oh, how will that be possible?” But on January 2nd, I actually started the experiment. It was also connected to a change in my diet, but I’ll write about that in another blog post. I was looking forward to my one cup of coffee like a child at Christmas. I enjoyed it and each time I got a little rush with more energy and more ideas in my head. So far so good. When the two months were over, I started drinking more coffee again, first just sipping, then I was quickly back to three cups and would have even had more if I hadn’t slowed myself down.
IF COFFEE, THEN FILTER COFFEE
But why all this fuss?! Coffee is much better than its reputation, says Bas Kast in The Diet Compass (associate link). He has researched all serious studies about coffee and caffeine and in general the following can be summarized – for filter coffee.
- Filter coffee reduces 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 the liver “.1
- Filter Filter coffee is associated with a reduced risk of various forms of cancer.1
- Filter coffee reduces the risk of diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.1
This also applies to decaffeinated coffee, by the way; caffeine is therefore not the only reason behind these research results. It must be emphasized that these results only apply to filter coffee. This is because the coffee’s harmful accompanying substances – cafestol and kahweol – are largely retained in the fine paper filter, whereas they are ingested in all other types of preparation. And so, an Italian study comes to the conclusion “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 and espresso alike and what Bas Kast does not write about is the acrylamide content of coffee. I could write a whole separate blogpost about acrylamide. And I will. Therefore, here only the basics: Acrylamide potentially increases the risk of cancer for consumers of all age groups. In animal experiments gene mutations and tumors were observed. Acrylamide can form when carbohydrate-containing foods are heated to high temperatures above 120 degrees Celsius. “In the general diet of adults, coffee and roasted or deep-fried potato products represent the largest acrylamide sources, followed by cookies, crackers, crisp bread and toast”2. Further sources of acrylamide can be found here at the consumers’ office Hamburg.3 In summary, it can be said that filter coffee is actually good and all other coffee preparation methods are rather not recommendable. My friend Sabine has the Moccamaster filter coffee machine (associate link) and is super happy with it. And I have rediscovered my old porcelain pourover coffee dripper (associate link).
STRESS, CAFFEINE AND CORTISOL
Nevertheless, especially women should look differently at coffee and/or caffeine.
Caffeine increases the release of cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that activates metabolic processes in the body, thus providing energy to the cells. By drinking coffee, we basically artificially expose our body to stress to which it reacts by releasing glucose, quickly enhancing our reactivity. This means that cortisol causes our blood sugar level to rise. This in turn causes our insulin level to rise. The glucose in the blood is then absorbed by our cells, which causes the blood sugar level to drop again and as a result we have more fluctuating blood sugar levels. This is something we want to avoid. It can increase insulin resistance, a condition in which the body cannot effectively release glucose into the cells because the cells are less receptive to insulin.4 And high blood glucose levels are a precursor to diabetes. In Germany, 9.5 million people suffer from diabetes.5 A disease that would be preventable in 90-95%6 of diabetics – namely those suffering from type 2 diabetes – because its cause is incorrect nutrition and lack of exercise. Now I’m digressing… but drinking too much coffee chronically can contribute to type 2 diabetes in the long term.
WHILE YOU WERE NOT SLEEPING
Caffeine can also affect our sleep; namely how well, how long and how deeply we sleep and also how well we fall asleep. If you have sleep problems anyway, the first thing to do is to stop drinking caffeinated drinks. For some people, one cup in the morning is enough to have trouble falling asleep in the evening. And unfortunately, our ability to tolerate caffeine diminishes as we get older. In addition, women who take the pill or 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, as it uses the same enzyme system as the hormones. This means that the caffeine remains in the body longer.7 And last but not least, our cortisol levels rise anyway with increasing age. If we continue to consume caffeine in the same quantities as before, this leads to higher cortisol levels overall with the effects described above. In other words, as we get older, the developments that can lead to us falling asleep and sleeping through the night more poorly increase. And that is why, in her book “The Hormone Reset Diet” (associate link), the doctor Sara Gottfried recommends giving up caffeine at least once a quarter for three weeks. This includes not only coffee, but also black and green tea, energy drinks and coca cola. Black and green tea only have about half as much caffeine as coffee. And, to alleviate the withdrawal symptoms that can occur when giving up coffee, she advises switching to black and green tea first and then slowly reducing the intake of these two drinks.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 give up caffeine for a while, we could break this cycle. At least it’s worth a try.
ON CAFFEINE WITHDRAWAL
For me it was frightening to see that I actually got a strong headache when I stopped drinking coffee. And on this first day I was very tempted to make myself a quick espresso, because we have a portafilter coffee machine and a coffee grinder at home – the Mignon from Eureka (associate link). And I love the smell of freshly ground coffee. After having done all this research, I will continue to enjoy the smell, but drastically reduce my consumption. Especially, because I unfortunately do not sleep well and I hope to get back to sleeping well.
WHAT ABOUT TEA?
“I still cannot 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 writes Dr. Michael Greger in his book “How Not to Die” (associate link) at the end of his chapter on coffee.
While Bas Kast rates effects and advantages of green tea as positively as those of filter coffee, Dr. Michael Greger sees something else in green tea: a small miracle. Green tea is said to help relieve seasonal allergy symptoms and – even more important – 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 related to the fact that meaningful studies in humans would have to be conducted over a very long period of time, because most tumors grow very slowly in our body. Such studies are very expensive and therefore comparatively rare. However, observational studies have shown that Asian women, for example, are up to five times less likely to develop breast cancer.10 And they attribute this to drinking green tea, eating soy products and mushrooms.
FOURTH DAY WITHOUT COFFEE
This is my fourth day without coffee, but not completely without caffeine. On the first day I had basically given up, had very strong headaches, was lacking drive and I was tired. Now I have switched to ginger tea and green tea (associate link) and I will try putting more matcha powder (associate link) in my smoothie. Lemon water with cayenne pepper should also wake you up quite well. And then there are also the herbal teas, which I have underestimated so far. And I am not talking about the usual suspects chamomile, peppermint or fennel. I’m talking about tea from lady’s mantle, walnut leaves, hop cones, hawthorn and other herbs. For all those who love coffee because of its bitter taste, I highly recommend these two alternatives: Dandelion Coffee and MUD / WTR (both associate links).
We’ll have more on this in a bit. Until then, I hope you are all doing well with or without coffee. Stay healthy and sleep tight.
1. quoted by Bas Kast in The Diet Compass, pages 197ff, 2018
2. Verbraucherzentrale.de, Acrylamid: Problematischer Stoff in Lebensmitteln, Stand: 11.04.2018 https://www.verbraucherzentrale.de/wissen/lebensmittel/lebensmittelproduktion/acrylamid-problematischer-stoff-in-lebensmitteln-13879
3. Verbraucherzentrale Hamburg, Acrylamid in Lebensmitteln, Stand 10.04.2018, https://www.vzhh.de/themen/lebensmittel-ernaehrung/schadstoffe-lebensmitteln/acrylamid-lebensmitteln
5. International Diabetes Federation, über statista, Rainer Radtke, Länder mit der höchsten Anzahl Diabeteserkrankter 2019 bis 2045, 07.01.2020, https://de.statista.com/statistik/daten/studie/241789/umfrage/laender-mit-den-meisten-diabeteserkrankten/
6. Bundesministerium für Gesundheit, Diabetes mellitus Typ-1 und Typ-2, https://www.bundesgesundheitsministerium.de/themen/praevention/gesundheitsgefahren/diabetes.html
8. Sara Gottfried, The Hormone Reset Diet, Den Stoffwechsel regulieren und erfolgreich abnehmen durch Neustart des Hormonsystems, 2016
9. Dr. Michael Greger, HOW NOT TO DIE, 2019, S. 353
10. Dr. Michael Greger, HOW NOT TO DIE, 2019, S. 182