Is Your Coffee Making You Sick?
The benefits of coffee are well known. When done right, coffee is a rich source of antioxidants and may help tackle heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s, gout, depression, asthma, and cancers of the breast and prostate. When done wrong, it may make you sick. Here’s why.
Coffee contains caffeine, which is a central nervous system stimulant. For most people the buzz they get from this drug has many positive benefits when taken in moderation, such as improving alertness and reducing fatigue in endurance sports. A small percentage of the population, however, are hypersensitive to caffeine and its use may create a medical condition called “caffeinism.” The reported symptoms of caffeinism include insomnia, cardiac arrhythmias, and gastrointestinal disturbances.
It’s especially dangerous to combine caffeine with alcohol, which is usually done by adding alcohol to energy drinks. In April 2006 a review paper on this subject was published titled, “Effects of Energy Drink Ingestion on Alcohol Intoxication.” The researchers noted the following: “When compared with the ingestion of alcohol alone, the ingestion of alcohol plus energy drink significantly reduced subjects’ perception of headache, weakness, dry mouth, and impairment of motor coordination.” The defense of those who manufacturer these drinks was that the effect of consuming their products was no different than drinking wine followed by drinking coffee. Nevertheless, in November 2010 the FDA took action to prevent seven manufacturers from selling their drinks in their current state.
For those who experience unwanted side effects from caffeine but still want to drink coffee, the obvious solution is to switch to decaffeinated coffee. It is also important for these individuals to avoid other products that may contain caffeine, such as certain types of energy drinks, tea, and chocolate. The problem, supported by research conducted by the University of Florida, is that decaffeinated coffee is not necessarily caffeine-free.
The Florida researchers examined 10 popular brands of decaffeinated coffee, and found that nine of them contained between 8.6 milligrams to 13.9 milligrams of caffeine. In comparison, a typical 8-ounce cup of drip-brewed coffee may have 85 milligrams of caffeine. Also, one of the best methods to decaffeinate coffee is called “Swiss Water Process,” which doesn’t use chemical solvents such as methylene chloride or ethyl acetate in their definition process.
The next issue with coffee is how it is made. If you prepare coffee you have absolute control over how your coffee makers and coffee pots are cleaned. Cleaning your coffee pots, coffee mugs, and all the components of your coffee maker with hot soapy water or sanitizing them in a dishwasher is time-consuming but needs to be done to prevent the ingestion of bacteria, viruses and molds that can may be present. By the way, an excellent disinfectant for coffee machines is a solution of five percent vinegar. Also, you should avoid using bright white coffee filters because these often contain chlorine bleaches that will be extracted from the filter during brewing.
The type of coffee you drink is also important for avoiding potential health issues. Coffee is one of the most heavily sprayed crops, and some coffee brands may contain traces of pesticides and toxic herbicides. Organic coffee is the solution here, but consider that some farmers who produce organic coffee may not be in compliance with the standards of this industry. One indicator that you probably have a quality organic product is to look for a “fair-trade certified” label on the product. This brings us to the controversial topic of mycotoxins.
Mycotoxins are chemical compounds produced by fungi that attach to dried coffee beans. There are strong opinions in the health science community about the effects the relatively small amount of mycotoxins in coffee may have on the body. First, consider that caffeine is a natural inhibitor of mycotoxins, so if you are concerned about mycotoxins then avoid decaffeinated coffee. Here are other ways to reduce the amount of mycotoxins in your coffee: prefer coffee made with wet processing, choose Arabica beans over robust beans, select coffee from the mountains of Central America (as fungi is less common in areas of higher elevations), and avoid blended coffee.
A final factor to consider about coffee and your health is what you add to the coffee to enhance its flavor, especially products such as table sugar and whipping cream. Although coffee is usually not regarded as a diet drink, consider that a cup of brewed coffee only has about two calories. Add a tablespoon of half-and-half and you’re up to 20 calories, and a tablespoon of table sugar and now you’ve got 49 calories. Not a big deal, but consider than many commercial coffee-based drinks are a weight watchers nightmare. For example, a 10-ounce Caramel Brulee Latte from Starbucks is packed with 85 grams of carbs, 20 grams of fat and 580 calories!
Coffee is the most popular beverage in the world, and when done right and consumed in moderation may even be considered a health food. You just need to make smart decisions about the type of coffee you buy and how it’s prepared.