“Five or six cups of coffee a day linked to metabolic syndrome, weight gain…”
“Coffee drinking tied to lower risk for rare liver disease…”
“Research suggests coffee may increase diabetes risk…”
“The vast majority of those studies have shown a benefit of coffee on the prevention of diabetes…”
Is it any wonder that people are confused about how coffee affects our health?
Each day I hear one study after another declaring coffee as either a superfood with major benefits for health or a dangerous food item that should be limited as much as possible. Just this week I heard one report citing increased risk for heart disease and the following day, another report claiming that drinking 4 cups of coffee a day would actually decrease the risk for heart disease and cancer. I can’t help but wonder how we can make informed decisions about our health when different studies contradict each other on a daily basis?
The argument supporting coffee’s health benefits is based in the rich supply of antioxidants that can be found in coffee grains. Antioxidants are widely believed to help reduce the risk of cancer and disease due to the oxygen-free radicals that minimize the deterioration of cells that leads to cancer. Additionally there are minerals such as magnesium and chronium which aids the body’s use of insulin, thereby lowering blood-sugar levels and reducing the risk of diabetes.
There are, however, studies refuting the benefits of antioxidants, citing insufficient knowledge of how antioxidants truly affect oxidation of cells and their role in preventing cancer. Coupled with the risks associated with increased caffeine levels and negative health habits (such as smoking) that may be combined with drinking coffee, there are significant risks to increasing your intake. Or so the studies tell us.
It seems we’re back to square one.
I recently made a decision to decrease my coffee intake from five cups a day to just one cup in the morning before going to work. I don’t drink black coffee and my main concern was the amount of cream and sugar I added to my diet with each additional cup. I propose this may be one of the main reasons drinking coffee is linked with higher risk for diabetes and weight gain. That large latte with an extra flavor shot at your local coffee shop is loaded with sugar and high-fat dairy, all of which can be detrimental to your health. So, I went down to one cup with a goal to eventually eliminate coffee altogether.
This little experiment lasted for about a month.
Although I felt better physically with less caffeine and sugar in my bloodstream, and mentally it was freeing not to be so dependent on coffee to get me through withdrawal symptoms like headaches, I realized I was missing something.
Moderation is everything. Maybe having five big cups of coffee with lots of cream and sugar was a bad idea, but completely eliminating something that I actually enjoyed wasn’t so great either.
I learned awhile back to pick through health studies carefully and to take their recommendations with a grain of salt. Everyone has different lifestyles with behaviors that may or may not impact the way coffee affects our moods and our bodies.
As with all of our food choices, we must consider what foods will benefit us most. There needs to be a balance of various nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to maintain good health. Drinking cup after cup of coffee or just one cup in the morning, without having a solid, well-rounded diet isn’t beneficial to anyone, regardless of what studies will tell you.
My coffee consumption is moderate and I’m working on slowly phasing out the cream and sugar. I had previously labeled drinking coffee as a bad habit and felt guilty if I had too much of it in a day. Now I can enjoy it without over-analyzing each cup. I ignore the studies and take cues on how food makes me feel by listening to my body.
Once I pushed science aside in favor of intuition, I realized that coffee was much more than just a drink to get me through a groggy morning. It’s tradition. It’s the time I spend with family after dinner, sitting down and sharing a cup over stories and laughter. It’s a reunion with a friend at a cafe where we catch up and reconnect. Coffee is part of an experience and something I grew up watching my mom make in the old-fashioned way as she was taught by her mother.
I try to describe how my parents make coffee and no one really understands. It’s not surprising considering how reliant we’ve all become on electronic coffee makers (myself included) that brew coffee in minutes.
Cafe colado is a Latino tradition that varies from country to country, but the process is manual and produces some of the best-tasting coffee you’ll ever have. The flavor is pure and more robust than coffee from a machine. My parents have this amazing hand-made coffee stand that’s over thirty years old and still in heavy use. I’ve already staked a claim on inheriting this stand in the future and plan on passing it onto my own children to continue the tradition of cafe colado. It makes me oddly sentimental each time I see my parents prepare coffee, almost as if I were stepping back in time.
Preparing this coffee is fairly simple. We use our magnificent stand, but if you have something where you can hang a cloth filter over a cup, that should work just as well.
Boil several cups of water in a saucepan and keep the flame on. Measure out the coffee grinds and place in a metal cup. My mother sometimes grinds fresh nutmeg over the grinds to enhance the flavor. Add boiling water to the cup, stir well, and then place the cup into the saucepan so that the bottom is submerged. Keep stirring the grinds with a spoon for several minutes.
Once the mixture is thick but thoroughly combined, pour into the filter. Keep adding boiling water until you’ve made your desired servings. We don’t brew exceptionally strong coffee, so we use about 2-3 cups of boiling water to every 5 tablespoons of ground coffee. You can adjust this according to your taste.
The process takes about 10 minutes, although my parents are such pros that they can cut that time in half. Sometimes they grind fresh bittersweet chocolate over the top which is a wonderfully decadent way to enjoy an already great cup of coffee.
Sometimes tradition wins out in the end and cafe colado is one way to celebrate my culture. With all of the focus on the relationship between food, health, and science it’s easy to lose ourselves in the conversation. It’s good to be reminded that food can be a celebration as well, and as long as we’re mindful of how we indulge, we can choose to enjoy the experience.
What do you think about coffee and it’s role in our health? Do you have any coffee or food traditions that you can’t give up? Or do you adapt them to fit your healthier lifestyle? Please share your thoughts! As always, remember to keep paying it forward.