Why has a substance that apparently offers no nutritional value – no vitamins, no minerals, no enzymes – become so widely used throughout the world? Many coffee drinkers enjoy the taste. And for those who don't there are countless additives to mask the flavour like sweeteners, milk, and chocolate syrup to name just a few. Other people drink coffee for the caffeine boost. Many people swear they can't get going in the morning without a cup of coffee – or several. They feel physically tired and mentally foggy without their morning brew. Most regular coffee drinkers argue their habit isn't doing them any harm. In fact, they'll point to reports touting the health benefits of coffee citing studies that claim regular consumption reduces the risk for heart disease and diabetes for example.

The Coffee Controversy

Coffee's effect on humans has been extensively researched for decades yet there is still a great deal of debate about what it really does to your health. The results of coffee studies often conflict, which is why you might read an article this week that completely contradicts the advice given in a report you read a month ago. One study, for example, indicated drinking coffee could negatively affect your short-term word recall. Not long after a report was published which pointed to evidence that a couple of cups of coffee per day could improve your short-term memory. It has been said that coffee can:

  • Interfere with your body's ability to use water and promote fluid loss
  • Raise your cholesterol
  • Send your insulin levels out of control
  • Contribute to rheumatoid arthritis and stroke
  • Damage your blood vessels
  • Increase your risk of heart disease

There Is Good News

Coffee, like many other natural plants and herbs, does appear to have some therapeutic benefits given the right circumstances. Organic whole-bean black coffee does appear to have some health benefits and it seems the darker the roast the more benefits it provides. The darkness of coffee refers to the ending coloration of a bean after it has been roasted. Coffee roasting is a very complex art that requires the beans to be brought to high temperatures very quickly and then cooled off just as fast when the desired roast is reached. Expert roasters have years of training that allows them to "read" the coffee beans for signs of appropriate roasting. It's often the case that foods with the darkest pigments also offer the most robust benefits to health, and dark roast coffee, such as French Roast or that used to make espresso or Turkish coffee, may be no exception.

New research in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research found that dark roast coffee restored blood levels of the antioxidants vitamin E and glutathione more effectively than light roast coffee. The dark roast also led to a significant body weight reduction in pre-obese volunteers, whereas the light roast did not. Separate research also showed that dark roast coffee produces more of a chemical called N-methylpyridinium. This chemical is produced during the roasting process, and the darker the roast, the more N-methylpyridinium it contains. Interestingly, this chemical also appears to prevent stomach cells from producing excess acid, which means dark roast coffee may be easier on the stomach, whereas lighter roasts might create the acid-like stomach irritation that coffee drinkers sometimes experience. Caffeine levels also vary depending on roast, with darker roasts containing less caffeine than lighter roasts.

Healthy Coffee Drinking Tips

  • Buy organic to avoid exposure to pesticides
  • Avoid coffee additives like sugar, artificial sweeteners and milk – they are worse for your health than the coffee
  • Use unbleached coffee filters in your drip coffee maker to avoid the chlorine contamination of bleached filters
  • If you switch to decaf, make sure to drink only coffee that has been non-chemically decaffeinated (for example, the Swiss Water Process)
  • Reduce the amount of coffee you drink to 2-3 cups a day

Watch Out For Withdrawal

If you're a heavy coffee drinker or are especially sensitive to caffeine going cold turkey isn't always a good idea. As with most drugs reducing caffeine from your system can cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Even one cup of coffee a day can create an addiction and withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Headache
  • Drowsiness and fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Flu like feelings of nausea and muscle pain

In order to alleviate withdrawal symptoms consider tapering off your coffee habit gradually.

Pesticide Exposure

Coffee beans are known to be a heavily sprayed crop and there is limited input and control over the type and quantity of pesticides used in the countries from which we import coffee. Pesticides contribute to a wide range of health problems including prostate and other cancers, Parkinson's disease, and even miscarriage. While transitioning from regular coffee and heavily sugared additives to dark roast organic coffee your immune system will be taxed from detoxing.

Now go enjoy your cup of joe*.
*Cup of joe – possibly a morphing of the names Java and Mocha, places where originally the best coffees came from.