Updated: Jan 28
In the 10th century when, according to Ethiopian legend, a goat herder named Kaldi observed his flock bouncing around with energetic vigor after eating the red fruit of the coffee plant, he decided to try it for himself. Upon experiencing a similar boost in energy, he took some berries to his local monastery where he invited some monks to try them. When the monks disapprovingly tossed them into the nearby fire, inadvertently roasting the first coffee bean, the enticing aroma led them to remove the beans from the ashes, grind them up and brew the first cup of delicious, albeit slightly ashy coffee. (1)
Whether you decide to believe a story first recorded almost 800 years after the events are supposed to have taken place or not (the jury is out on that one), it is commonly believed that coffee would have more than likely originated in Africa, most likely in or near Ethiopia. From there it was exported to Yemen where it was eventually cultivated and used in the same manner as it is used today. By the 17th century coffee had found its way to Europe and Asia, and today is one of the most traded agricultural commodities in the world. The popularity of coffee has led to both positive and negative elements which need to be taken into account.
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Firstly, the positives. As coffee has become ever-increasingly popular, the amount of scientific research being performed on coffee has increased. A quick search on the US National Library of Medicine’s National Centre for Biotechnology Information produces over 60,000 results regarding coffee. (2) This increase in understanding allows us to utilise the beneficial qualities with greater efficacy.
4 Of The Best Benefits Of Coffee
Coffee is one of the most potent antioxidants available, and unfortunately, the most popular source of antioxidants consumed in a typical Western diet due to the lack of consumption of other high-quality antioxidant foods. (3) Think about how you like your roast because the degree to which the beans are roasted can have an effect on the antioxidant levels - medium roasts have higher amounts of antioxidants than high roasted beans. (4) Another interesting point most people don’t realise is that caffeine itself is an antioxidant. Caffeine found in tea, coffee and cocoa can protect against Alzheimer's and certain types of cancers. (5) (6)
2. Good For The Liver
Studies have shown a link between regular coffee consumption and a decrease in risk of liver cancer by up to 50% and reduce the risk of liver disease due to alcohol intake by up to 22%. Drinking coffee lowers the levels of liver enzymes which points to a reduced risk of developing liver disease. Interestingly, you can receive the same benefits from drinking decaf coffee which implies the benefits are contained within other qualities of coffee independent of caffeine. (7)
3. Great Pre-Workout Drink
Coffee can make you train harder. In a study performed in 2015 resistance-trained males were shown to have increased the volume of work performed in a workout after ingestion of coffee, when compared to a control group with no coffee intake. An increase in volume in your workouts is a principle of progressive overload, one of the most influential factors of muscle growth. It has also been shown that caffeine can help increase the amount of calories burnt during and after a workout. (8)
4. Protects The Brain
Coffee and caffeine may directly and indirectly protect the brain against degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia. Caffeine lowers levels of amyloid beta, a protein linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, whilst the antioxidants lower inflammation, and the stimulating effects of coffee may increase physical activity in some people. This combination contributes to healthy cognitive function and a reduction in the risk of degenerative brain disorders. (9)
While the list of benefits of coffee continues to grow due to the increased number of studies being performed, there are a few precautions we must take when including coffee in our diet.
Coffee is one of the most contaminated crops grown in the world as they are heavily sprayed with cheap pesticides and other chemicals to ensure an impressive yield. It is important to select organic coffee where possible as this ensures no chemicals, herbicides or pesticides are used in the cultivation and manufacture of the beans. If there is one food or drink in your diet which should be organic, it is coffee. Some studies claim that up to 85% of pesticide residue is lost during the roasting process, and while we cannot disprove this, it is important to consider the environmental impact of heavy pesticide spraying. Do not worry about the price though as organic coffee can be found for the same price as regular coffee. You may also want to opt for fair-trade coffee to ensure the ethical treatment of everyone involved in the process. (10)
2. Genetic Variations On Coffee Metabolism
There exists a gene - CYP1A2 to be precise - which affects the livers ability to metabolise coffee. In individuals who have two copies of the “fast” variant of this gene find they metabolise coffee very quickly, often being able to consume 3-4 cups in a short amount of time without feeling any effect. Others who possess one or more of the “slow” variants of the gene find that drinking coffee will more often than not give them jitters and make them feel on edge. It is important to understand your own response to caffeine when including coffee in your diet. (11) (12)
For many, most mornings cannot begin properly before a big cup of coffee. While coffee "addiction" has not been documented in humans (13), studies have demonstrated regular coffee drinkers may develop a dependency which would result in withdrawal symptoms. (14) The body develops a tolerance to coffee over time, meaning the effectiveness of caffeine becomes reduced. This is why regular coffee drinkers feel the need to consume coffee just to “feel normal” or why people find they end up drinking 3-4 cups until they feel a difference. (15)
4. Powerful Stimulant
The half life of caffeine is about 4-6 hours for most people, meaning that after this time they should stop feeling the effects of coffee consumption. This can wreak havoc with your sleep cycle which strongly influences every bodily process from exercise recovery and brain function to digestion. Consequently, it is advised to avoid caffeinated drinks after 3pm, and to drink smaller amounts in each serving so you do not consume more than you need.
It is important to weigh-up the positives and negatives when considering coffee consumption. Consider your own tolerance to coffee and always opt for organic and fair-trade coffee to ensure you maximise the benefits and minimise the negatives.
(13) - Nestler, Hyman and Malenka, Molecular Neuropharmacology: A Foundation for Clinical Neuroscience 2008 ISBN - 0071481273
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ABOUT THE AUTHORS
John Maitland is the co-founder of 'The Evolved Way.’ A personal trainer with over 10 years’ experience, he has worked alongside a wide range of leading CEOs, entrepreneurs and medical professionals. John is a keen athlete and holds a black belt in Shaolin Kung fu. A fan of the great outdoors, he can often be found exploring the British countryside and mountains...or breaking pine boards with his fingers.
Co-founder of 'The Evolved Way', and experienced personal trainer, Samson practices what he preaches. His own healthy lifestyle, which informs this site, is based on understanding the right way to eat and exercise, not excluding of course going out and enjoying life knowing you can still feel and look good.