The health benefits of drinking coffee
It’s one of Australia’s favourite brews, with the benefits of our daily caffeine hit more than just its little pick me up.
Whoever said, ‘All you need is love… and a good cup of coffee’, summed it up for many of us.
Whether it’s a latte, espresso, flat white, macchiato, long black or any other variation, it seems Australians are in love with caffeine.
According to the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) we consume about 150 million bags of coffee worldwide a year – that’s almost 10 million tonnes.
This makes caffeine the most commonly used psychoactive drug in the world.
So what is it we love so much about a cup of joe?
Firstly, what exactly is caffeine?
An ingredient found naturally in the leaves, seeds or fruit of more than 60 plants worldwide – such as tea leaves, coffee beans and cocoa seeds – caffeine is well known for its stimulating effect.
More than 50 per cent of caffeine in the Australian diet comes from coffee, with a 2013 Galaxy Poll finding other sources include cola (15 per cent), tea (16 per cent) and energy drinks (15 per cent).
Caffeine can also be produced synthetically and is a common additive to certain foods, beverages and medications.
Is coffee good for us?
Physician, scientist and author Professor Merlin Thomas (The Longevity List) says that the major negative effect of coffee, apart from that on our wallets, is that caffeine is addictive and if we miss our fix it can be a real headache – in more ways than one.
Consuming too much caffeine may also lead to jitteriness, anxiety, heart palpitations and even panic attacks.
While the evidence on caffeine use and pregnancy isn’t conclusive, most evidence suggests having less than two standards cups of instant coffee a day is safe.
On the flipside, he says that overall a moderate intake of coffee doesn’t appear to be harmful to our health.
In fact it may slightly reduce the risk of diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, hip fracture and liver disease.
“A number of studies have looked at the link between caffeine intake and blood pressure and, if anything, those people who regularly take coffee and tea have a lower risk of the outcomes of high blood pressure, such as kidney and heart disease,” Professor Thomas says.
It’s also thought the social ritual of coffee – the interaction and chat with friends, family, colleagues or even strangers – is good for our mental health and improving our mood.
How much coffee is safe to drink?
If you’re that person who always goes back for more when it comes to coffee you can relax!
Research has found, for most people, the equivalent of 3-4 cups of coffee per day is considered safe – in fact it’s linked to a lower risk of premature death and heart disease than those who don’t have any.
What about decaf?
It may be called ‘decaffeinated’, but decaf coffee still contains caffeine.
Studies have shown decaf contains around 12mgs or more. Something to bear in mind if you’re reaching for the decaf jar!
Is there a good way to kick the habit?
Any chronic coffee drinker who’s had to quit or cut down will tell you it’s not easy.
Professor Thomas says caffeine withdrawal can leave us feeling tired, inattentive, irritable and moody.
Withdrawal symptoms most typically start within 24 hours, get to peak intensity within 1-2 days and may last for up to two weeks.
What else is coffee used for?
Caffeine is not only used to stimulate our minds, but is increasingly being used in cosmetics and skincare products due to its high biological activity and ability to penetrate the skin barrier.
Research has shown it can act as a diuretic, dehydrating fat cells and making skin appear smoother.
So if you’ve reached your cuppa quota for the day, try a coffee body scrub or face mask instead and you might find you get your fix in a whole new way. And get your glow on at the same time!
Four fun facts about coffee
- Shepherds discovered coffee in Ethiopia circa 800AD
- Coffee is the second most traded commodity on earth
- In Italian espresso means ‘when something is forced out’
- Coffee was the first ever food to be freeze-dried
Watch James Tobin discover the pros and cons of coffee on House of Wellness TV.