6 Tips for Healthier Coffee Drinking
Guest post by Craig Fear, NTP
As a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, I’ve been told more than once that I have a gentle way of working with clients. I don’t force diets and supplements down people’s throats. I know we are all where we are, healthwise, for a variety of reasons that go well beyond just food itself and it can take time for changes to be instituted. I understand people use food for mental and emotional reasons, and that taking a specific food away can be akin to a huge psychological shock. On my intake forms, one of the questions is, “Is there a food you are absolutely not willing to give up?” This gives me an idea of how fast or slow we need to go when making dietary changes. Chocolate, sweets, and alcohol are just some of the obvious ones. But by far the most frequent item I see is… yeah, you guessed it: coffee.
I always encourage my clients to minimize coffee in their diet. It can stress the adrenal glands, liver, kidneys, and stomach, and can cause the excretion of vital vitamins and minerals as the body tries to rid itself of the caffeine. It can contribute to blood sugar irregularities (see number 5 below) as well. I could go on and on about its negative health effects. But, I’ll never tell anyone they have to give up coffee. If I did, the majority of the people I see would never come back!
However, it never ceases to amaze me when people do go off the stuff. When they come back for a follow-up, and say they’ve given up coffee and feel great, I always feel like saying, “Umm…could you show me how to do that?”
Perhaps this is not the best way to start my very venture into nutritional blogging by admitting that I’m a coffee drinker.
It’s a habit that started long before I changed my own diet, one that goes well back to those all-night study sessions in college. It’s also a habit that’s reinforced by my love of coffeehouses. I like hanging out with friends there, I like to do work there, I like to listen to music there, and now, I guess I like to blog there as well. And I know a lot of people who feel the same way.
So, I have a funny feeling a lot of people will identify with this because I know more people are NOT going to give up coffee than those who are. So this article is for you, my fellow coffee drinkers out there who scoff, smirk, sneer and roll your eyes at the seemingly endless barrage of how-to-quit-coffee articles out there and think, “Yeah, right.”
Because I’m right there with you.
And God knows I’ve tried to give up coffee. I’ve tried switching to tea and I’ve tried the coffee substitutes. None of it has worked. I even gave it up for 30 days once. It made no difference. Zippo. I craved it as much on day 1 as I did on day 30. I’ll never forget that first sip of coffee on the morning of day 31. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
Of course, there’s a big difference between drinking a cup of coffee a day and drinking three pots. I know some of my NTP friends disagree with me on this, but so be it. Of all the toxic things we can put into our bodies, I don’t think a cup of coffee a day is anywhere near the top of that list. I’m much more concerned with people getting sugar, chemicals, and all manner of processed foods out of their diet.
These are the true culprits in our national health epidemics. If you’re eating mostly locally grown, nutrient-dense sources of foods—including plenty of good healthy fats from grass-fed, pastured animals—and if drinking a cup of coffee per day is your only nutritional vice, trust me, you’re way ahead of the game.
With that being said, if you truly love coffee, and there’s absolutely NO WAY you’re ever going to give it up, here are 6 tips that can turn a really addictive habit into a mild vice.
1. Choose organic
Conventional coffee is heavily sprayed with pesticides. There are a plethora of organic choices out there. At the very least, do this. Better yet, support companies that promote fair trade practices. And stay away from the flavored coffees which are usually full of artificial flavorings.
2. Get the sugar out!
OK, this I realize is a tough one for a lot of people. It was for me. Until I did this, I never realized that what I was really craving in my coffee was the sugar more than the caffeine. And once I ditched the sugar, my palate became more attuned to the various types of roasts and regional variations. I actually started enjoying the taste of coffee instead of the taste of sugar. Try adding just cream (preferably raw if you can get it) in place of sugar.
That helped me get the sugar out once and for all. The fat in cream will cut the bitterness of coffee. Cream also has a natural sweetness that can help you wean off the refined white stuff. Lastly, please do NOT use those flavored cream/creamer concoctions! They’re made with hydrogenated vegetable oils, corn syrup and a whole host of other chemicals. Now some of you might be saying, “Cream? What about low-fat milk? Isn’t that healthier?” No. As Bill Cosby once said, “Show me the cow that makes skim milk and then I’ll drink it”. Low-fat milk and all manner of low-fat products are not health foods.
3. Buy whole beans and grind them at home.
Coffee beans, like anything, will begin to break down and become rancid once the inner contents are exposed to oxygen and moisture. To see this process with the naked eye, cut open an apple and see what happens. The white flesh starts turning brown pretty fast. This is due to its exposure to oxygen and moisture, the enemies of freshness. They’re also the enemies of antioxidants, those things you hear about that create stability and health in living systems and ward off disease.
I’m skeptical about the antioxidant health benefits you hear about in coffee. But if it’s true, those anti-oxidants will start to oxidize immediately after grinding, which is OK if you drink the coffee soon after. After a few days, however, freshly ground coffee doesn’t taste so fresh anymore. And if you get the sugar out, you can start to taste this pretty easily.
4. Keep it to ONE cup per day.
For starters, one cup is not a Starbucks twenty plus ounce mega-grande French Vanilla Frappuccino with whipped cream and chocolate syrup. Nor does it resemble a giant caramel coffee Coolatta from Dunkin Donuts. It is eight ounces. Your liver can handle that. I know more than a few people who drink coffee all day long—five, ten, fifteen cups. If you’re one of those people, don’t even think about cutting down to one cup right away. Reduce it slowly. If you’re drinking ten cups, get it down to eight in a week. Then get it down to five, and so on and so forth.
Other strategies for reducing the caffeine content include a second brewing from the same beans and including half decaf (Swiss water method only) in each cup.
5. Drink coffee after a meal.
For most people, that would be breakfast, and it’s definitely better to wait until you have some food in your system before downing that cup of coffee. Caffeine causes your body to release sugar into your bloodstream, which in turn causes the pancreas to release insulin (another good reason to get sugar out!) On an empty stomach, this can cause a sharp drop in blood sugar which can then set up more sugar cravings. Guess what will help spike that sugar besides sugar? Caffeine.
Furthermore, the caffeine in coffee can suppress your appetite, causing you to go longer without feeling hungry. This sets up further episodes of low blood sugar and further coffee and sugar cravings. Having food in your stomach will help modulate this blood sugar response and keep those cravings at bay.
6. Enjoy the heck out of it!
Yeah, that’s right. We live in a world where we’re made to feel guilty about food: don’t eat this, don’t eat that, this food will kill you, that food will kill you. Of course, a lot of that is true, but you can take any food, create negative thoughts around it and actually make it unhealthier to consume with those stressful thoughts. After all, stress depletes nutrients from the body, too. So, don’t feel guilty about your one cup per day of organic, ground-at-home, with-cream coffee. Enjoy it! I do every day.
Craig Fear, NTP practices in Massachusetts and writes at www.fearlesseating.net.
Post originally published in the Nutritional Therapist, Summer 2011.