For many coffee lovers, coffee drinking is less of a habit and more of a sacred ritual.
If you trace coffee back to its birthplace, Ethiopia, you’ll discover that the drink was prepared as part of a ceremony, which included herbs and spices that passed energy and health to its drinker. Coffee and spices have also been intimate partners in India, where the magical beans were brought from Yemen by the saint Baba Budan more than 400 years ago. In Saudi Arabia, coffee was called qahwah and it was known as the drink for mystics. Sufi monks across the Arabian Peninsula felt coffee enhanced their concentration and the depth of their spiritual connection with the Divine.
While its social dimension and cultural effect are undeniable, there’s always been heated debate surrounding coffee – in particular, its health benefits (or detriments, according to some). In the 17th century, French physicians noted that coffee could contribute to the sobering up of Europeans who traditionally drowned in alcohol, and so was a factor in improving general health. Conversely, young doctors claimed that drinking coffee contributed to the drying of cerebrospinal fluid and led to exhaustion, paralysis and impotence (Mirković, 2013).
According to recent studies, coffee could be really good for you, and does more than just wake you up. Let’s start with its nutritional content. Black coffee is sugar-free, fat-free, and virtually calorie-free. At least it is before we add those things to it!
The substance that is normally associated with coffee is caffeine. The caffeine content of a cup of coffee can vary, depending on factors such as processing and brewing time. This stimulant is also contained in tea, cocoa and cola seeds. Caffeine is an alkaloid, which is a basic substance that acts on different parts of the nervous system. Alkaloids are often used in medicine such as analgesics and anesthetics. It can have a positive effect on alertness, increased energy, strength, happiness, good mood, well-being and sociability (Ruxton, 2008), while in high doses (more than 5 cups per day) it can cause feelings of anxiety, nervousness, stomach irritability and insomnia (Juliano et al., 2014). For a long time, caffeine has been thought to be addictive. The latest edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th edition; DSM-5), does not include coffee addiction as a potential diagnosis. However, there have been several cases suggesting that caffeine consumption can cause mania and that excessive caffeine intake can make it difficult for patients with bipolar disorder to recover (Lara, 2010).
Coffee contains riboflavin, or vitamin B2, which is essential in converting fat, protein, and carbohydrates into energy, and breaking down other nutrients. People who don’t get enough daily riboflavin are prone to headaches, feeling sluggish, iron deficiency, and skin inflammation, especially around the mouth and lips. Our bodies cannot make it by itself, and since it’s water-soluble, our bodies cannot store it either. Therefore, riboflavin needs to be taken every day through either diet or supplements. One 250ml cup of coffee provides about 11% of the daily recommended dietary allowance for adults. That’s a good dose of vitamin B2 in each cup of coffee.
Coffee is also abundant in potassium, a very important mineral and electrolyte that our bodies need to function properly. People low on potassium can have high blood pressure, have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke, joint pain, fatigue, insomnia, muscle weakness, and poor concentration and memory. Talking of memory, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have shown that coffee can significantly improve it for up to 24 hours after consumption. It may also have long-term benefits on memory. In the literature, it is generally accepted that caffeine has a positive effect on attention (Einӧther & Giesbrecht, 2013) and on task switching (Tieges et al., 2006). Drinking three or more cups of coffee a day decreased the risk for later dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by almost 65%.
As well, coffee is one of the main sources of antioxidants in people’s daily diet (Yashin, 2013). These nutrients are your front-line defense against oxidative stress by supporting the immune system, reducing inflammation, and managing free radicals. Oxidative stress can contribute to chronic and degenerative problems including cancer, autoimmune disorders, the aging process, as well as cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases (Eskelinen and Kivipelto, 2010).
The benefits of coffee do not stop here. According to a study conducted by the European Society of Cardiology, which included a panel of medical experts, liver diseases are reduced by 40% for coffee drinkers versus non-coffee drinkers (Bravi et al., 2013). Initially, researchers thought the high doses of caffeine may be the reason, but the same results were not replicated with other caffeinated drinks such as tea. This suggests that it isn’t just caffeine that has amazing properties, but caffeine in combination with other health-promoting benefits of coffee itself.
In conclusion, coffee drinkers might enjoy a longer life span and a healthier life. This doesn’t mean that drinking a mocha with tons of cream, sugar, and syrup is ever going to be considered a wise choice, but perhaps coffee in its most basic form may not be the vice we once believed it to be.
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