Why coffee ABCs? Because in 2015, US government Agencies Blessed Coffee. Specifically, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (“the guidelines”) endorsed moderate coffee consumption. To many of you, this is a non-event. To people with an unnatural, irrational and insatiable curiosity about food policy, this is unprecedented. Changes in food policy tend to be evolutionary. But the guideline’s endorsement of 24-40 ounces of coffee consumption each day is revolutionary. And to coffee lovers, it’s a gift.
This is the last in a multipart series about the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Consumers of the Karma Sense Wellness media empire asked for a Karma Sense take on the guidelines. In response, we looked at their development process, their recommendations for certain macronutrients, and their positions on sugar substitutes, sustainability and sodium (I love alliterations). In this post, I examine the recommendations around coffee. And since the recommendations are unusually clear, I further extol coffee’s virtues with the help of an Infographic you can download and explore. But first…
Coffee ABCs – How Agencies Blessed Coffee
By congressional order, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issue the Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years (learn more here in the first post in this series). They serve as the centerpiece for all nutritional policy for the United States. While their intent is not to directly influence the diets of we the people, they do have an indirect effect. For example, they influence agricultural subsidies and government-provided meal programs such as school lunches or meals for our military. Ultimately, the guidelines create an economic system that determines how Big Food companies market, the advice you receive from healthcare workers, and the costs of products on supermarket shelves or drive-thru windows.
For the most part, regardless of the advancement of nutritional knowledge, the guidelines trail behind kicking and screaming. For example, even though saturated fat doesn’t appear to be as evil as once thought, the guidelines only reluctantly relaxed its recommendations (for Karma Sense analysis on dietary fat, click here). But out of the blue, without ever mentioning coffee before, the new guidelines say the following:
Moderate coffee consumption (three to five 8-oz cups/day or providing up to 400 mg/day of caffeine) can be incorporated into healthy eating patterns. This guidance on coffee is informed by strong and consistent evidence showing that, in healthy adults, moderate coffee consumption is not associated with an increased risk of major chronic diseases (e.g., cancer) or premature death, especially from CVD. However, individuals who do not consume caffeinated coffee or other caffeinated beverages are not encouraged to incorporate them into their eating pattern.
In other words, if you drink coffee, feel free to drink a couple of ventis each day. If you don’t have a caffeine habit, there’s no need to start.
As far as the guidelines go, this is pretty straightforward. Unlike other recommendations, it’s simple to understand and follow. Which means I could end this post right here. But you know better than that. There is so much more to say about coffee. If I believed in superfoods, coffee would be at the top of the list. And since a picture is worth a thousand words, this post says it with a picture. And also, with a thousand words.
Coffee ABCs Infographic
At Karma Sense Wellness, we like to paint the whole picture when it comes to your health. We don’t look at food solely as a source of nutrition or pleasure. Food is social and sensual. Food is history, science. language and culture. The coffee ABCs infographic below explores all of these aspects of coffee.
Below you see a small version of the infographic. If you click on it, you’ll go to a easier-to-veiw version that is hyperlinked. So, if you click on the square that says “A”. you learn more about coffee art. If you click on the square that says “B”, you find out how coffee promotes brain health.
If you scroll below the image on this page, I give a short narrative description of each link.
To go directly to any description, select the letter below.
Coffee Art is a thing. The Latte Art World Championship Open is like the NCAA Basketball Tournament of Impressionist Baristas. 64 entrants compete in single elimination brackets in competition for this title. Learn more about the competition here.
Here is last year’s winner.
Coffee boosts brain function. This meta-analysis, the gold standard in scientific research, looked at 41 well-designed studies from the last fifteen years to examine how caffeine affects mood, cognitive function, performance and hydration. As it relates to all of these variables, the study concluded that consuming up to 40 ounces of coffee a day provides benefits in these areas with minimal risk. Specifically, as it relates to cognitive skills, the study showed that caffeine led to improvements in memory, reaction time, mood, problem-solving and alertness.
Because caffeine is obvious. Many (but not all) of coffee’s benefits come from the caffeine. But caffeine also can disrupt our metabolism by competing with our different hormones. In this article, you learn why starting your day with a cup of coffee may be counterproductive. When you first wake up, your body releases cortisol, a stress hormone. It does this to provide the same jolt you’re hoping to get from your coffee. Peaking on both at the same time is a waste. Especially since you build up a tolerance to coffee to a point of diminishing returns.
Instead, you should drink coffee when your cortisol levels are low. This is usually mid-morning and in the afternoon. But be careful. Drinking coffee after about 2:00 PM will disrupt sleep and put you in a fatigue death spiral.
Coffee has downsides. Yes, coffee and caffeine are uppers. But for some people coffee can be a downer (as in bummer). It should be avoided by people with ulcers, acid reflux, high blood pressure and insomnia. For a thorough list of things to look out for, read this article.
Ethiopia is coffee’s birthplace. My compadres in Hebrew School know of Ethiopia as a bookend to the Persian Empire of King Ahasuerus (From India <clap clap> to Ethiopia <clap clap> 127 provinces!) A song that sadly, I cannot find any reference to on the internets.
Little did I know at the time that Ethiopia was also the likely birthplace of brewed coffee. Its history is pretty murky but all signs point to early 16th century Ethiopia as the first place to brew beans in hot water as a beverage.
You can find an interesting and entertaining history of coffee at this link.
Coffee can destroy body fat. Thousands of studies demonstrate caffeine and coffee’s effect at attacking body fat. But coffee alone won’t do the trick. Coffee and exercise is the best way to reduce fat.
In fact, here’s a protocol that’s believed to get your body into accelerated fat burning mode. Before having your first meal of the day, drink a cup of coffee and do some low energy steady-state exercise (e.g. walk, slow jog, light calisthenics). Afterward, feel free to eat as you normally would. This caffeinated fasted workout theoretically maximizes your fat burning hormones.
But for full disclosure, although fasting, low energy steady-state exercise and caffeine have each individually demonstrated a fat burning effect, there are no clinical studies proving the three together have any kind of multiplicative effect. Also, note that unless you wait until about 9:30 to have that cup of coffee, this advice flies in the face of the advice for the letter “C”, (C is for Cortisol) above.
Coffee’s effects are genetic. Nutrigenomics is the study of the interaction of nutrition and genes. Your genetic makeup determines how you as an individual process different foods. This is why two people of similar size and lifestyle have different responses to the same diet.
One of these links is the CYP1A2 gene which determines the speed at which a person processes caffeine. All of the benefits of coffee drinking seem to occur with people who have the fast caffeine metabolism gene. The downsides seem to correlate with the people who have the slower version. The theory is that fast metabolizers flush the caffeine out before it can cause problems while still getting the benefit of the antioxidants in coffee.
This article talks about nutrigenomics and its potential to provide personalized diets for optimal wellness. We’re a long way from that point. And because of that, I choose to ignore the fact that my CYP1A2 genotype is CC which makes me a slow metabolizer.
Coffee is full of antioxidants. In fact, when you normalize for serving size, coffee is the largest source of antioxidants in the North American diet. Antioxidants repair the damage we do to our cells as we go through our day engaging in physical activity, breathing polluted air, and heading for our fourth plateful at Golden Corral. This cell damage leads to chronic diseases such as arteriosclerosis and cancer.
Antioxidants, like hydrocinnamic acid, work to repair those cells. As you learn in this article, coffee contains other antioxidants such as the better-known (amongst the odd circle of people I hang with) polyphenols. But it’s about time for hydrocinnamic acid to get its day in the limelight. Other great sources of polyphenols or hydrocinnamic acid include chocolate, berries and soy.
I’ll have a Venti Rasberry Mocha with Soymilk, please.
As in “Doing It.” Back in “the day,” when television still had standards, there was a quaint series of coffee commercials in which two neighbors slowly became acquainted with one another and advanced towards couplehood thanks solely to the coffee that they shared.
These commercials were a big deal. Everyone was rooting for the couple to “get it on.”
Based on this study, it may have happened sooner than we all thought. But we’ll never know. Because that’s how TV worked in the 1980s.
Coffee in Empirical Europe. When we last left the history of coffee, back in those halcyon days of exploring the letter “E” (E is for Ethiopia), coffee was emerging as the beverage of choice in northeast Africa. Fast forward 150 years and western Europe had discovered this gift of nature and demanded a reliable supply. Because coffee only grows within a narrow equatorial-centered band of the globe and since the Dutch had no control over that territory in Africa, they exported beans from Ethiopia’s neighbor, Yemen, and started to grow them in their colonies in what we now call Indonesia. And thus the nickname “Java” was born.
Fermented coffee is a thing. It’s a Karma Sense “thing” to extol the virtues of fermented foods and to throw challenge flags at the bullcrap products that ride a food fad’s coattails. The jury is out on this latest development for fermented coffee.
The purpose of fermenting coffee is not to restock your body with precious gut bacteria. Instead, their aim is to improve the flavor profile because fermentation removes some of coffee’s bitter notes.
This is not really a new development. Kopi Luwak is a processing method that’s been around for ages. It involves feeding the coffee berries to Asian civet cats and allowing them to ferment in their digestive tract. When the cats poop out the beans, they are further processed and result in what some claim is the smoothest coffee in the world. This is an expensive process and the referenced article describes an attempt to develop a process that doesn’t involve cat poop.
We’ll continue to keep our eye out on this movement <heh heh>. You didn’t really expect to escape without a poop joke, did you?
Coffee counters effect of drinking alcohol. Most people know that drinking alcohol is hard on the liver. This study found strong evidence that drinking one cup of coffee each day can reduce the chance of alcohol-induced liver cancer by 14%. Irish coffee, anyone?
Coffeemate. No! For some reason, people voluntarily add this abomination to their coffee. Of all the ways to cancel out the positive qualities of coffee, this may be the worst. I don’t know why people use non-dairy creamer. Maybe it’s because they’re lactose intolerant (there are better lactose-free options). It could be because they mistakenly believe that dairy is bad for them (at worst, dairy is neutral for most people and it’s beneficial for many). Or maybe they like that the Coffeemates of the world have a long shelf life (so does lead which is also a poison).
But Coffeemate is total garbage. All 58 varieties are garbage. With the exception of their Natural Bliss line, they all contain trans fat. Even the fat-free version contains trans fat. They just get to call it fat-free because they do some clever math with the serving size.
Meanwhile, the Natural Bliss line is something you can mix together on your own without the so-called natural flavors added by Nestle (to learn more about the natural flavor scam and their relationship to beaver butts, read this post).
Coffee naps are a thing. Feeling the afternoon blahs and deciding whether to take a nap or chug another cup of coffee? For best results, do both.
That afternoon fatigue is often the result of adenosine, a brain waste product that accumulates over time and makes you tired. When you rest, it clears the adenosine out of your brain cells. Caffeine molecules compete for the same real estate in the brain as adenosine. If adenosine is already there, caffeine isn’t as effective. When caffeine beats adenosine to the punch, you feel that pleasant jolt of energy.
To take advantage of this phenomenon don’t choose between a nap or some Java. Do both. Drink a cup of coffee before taking a twenty-minute nap. The nap will clear out the adenosine just before the caffeine reaches its destination in the brain. This little hack will maximize caffeine’s effect.
To learn more, read this article.
Oh for f*ck sake! A member of the Big Food industry invented a tablet that makes multi-layered beverages that include a spoonable component. Someday they plan to package coffee and cake in a single container. I know many people think you can’t have coffee without a piece of cake. Estelle and Frank Costanza come to mind.
But, I don’t think this is what they had in mind.
Coffee IS a laxative. This is not another poop joke. While it’s true that the first food or drink that enters your mouth in the morning may stimulate your urge to go, there is a scientific basis for coffee being especially effective. The combination of caffeine in a hot beverage is known to increase the urgency for many people. Furthermore, coffee contains theophylline and xanthine which are compounds that excite (woohoo!) the colon. To get the straight science-y poop on coffee and poop, check out this link.
Coffee quality is based on Q Grading. Quality is one of several variables that drive the price of coffee. Coffee buyers apply value to beans based on their Q Grading as dictated by the Coffee Quality Institute (Go CQI Fighting Arabicas!). The Coffee Quality Institute is one of a number of associations and educational institutions that defend the rights of the coffee special interests. These include but are not limited to the National Coffee Association, the Specialty Coffee Association, the Green Coffee Association, the Barista Guild of America, and many regional coffee not-for-profits in both the United States and throughout the world.
Roast process is key. Roast is another relevant variable when selecting coffee. Most of us consume coffee brewed from roasted beans. Roasts range from light to dark although coffee marketeers use many terms to describe their roasts. There is no best roast. It’s a matter of personal choice. Although one misconception most people have is that the darker the roast, the stronger the coffee. However, the opposite is true. Lighter roasts have a higher concentration of caffeine than darker varieties. For everything you want to know about roasts, check out this site from who else? The National Coffee Association.
Coffee is inextricably tied to Jerry. Sure, I could have gone with the television show Friends as the one show to promote coffee culture above all others. But I feel better about Seinfeld as a choice. Why?
Because it’s a better show. Because it predates Friends. Because so many great episodes involved coffee and its accouterments (which I believe is French for paraphernalia, the legal kind) outside of the coffee shop setting. The aforementioned coffee without cake incident. The coffee table stain. The many episodes centered around the coffee table book that’s a coffee table. And Jerry doesn’t just play a coffee drinker on TV, he’s a true coffee fan as demonstrated in this article and from his new reality series that mashes up all his favorite things, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.
So stop being cynical. I chose Seinfeld over Friends not because Coffee ABCs already had an F and needed an S. I chose it for all those reasons above.
September 29th is National Coffee Day. In fact, it’s International Coffee Day.
According to my research, because someone has to research this stuff, no one really knows how September 29th got this distinction. Some countries refuse to join the international community and select different days. Nepal’s National Coffee Day is November 17th. Indonesia’s is August 17th which is also their 4th of July (Indonesian Independence Day).
But wait, there’s more! In Italy, April 17th is National Espresso Day. (what is it with the number 17?) In the US we wait until November 23rd to celebrate Espresso. September 6th is National Coffee Ice Cream Day. And November 8th is National Cappuccino Day.
All this hoo-hah over coffee. And still, Schlumpia doesn’t get a day.
Coffee. It’s not just for breakfast anymore. Don’t throw away your coffee grounds! There are so many better places for them than landfills. Check out this site for some great ideas. And if you suddenly find yourself with more uses than grounds, go to your local coffee shop and ask them for theirs. They’ll be more than happy to comply.
Coffee for pedants. After Quality and Roasts, Variety may be the last bastion of coffee nerdom. If you’re one of those folks whose interest in coffee goes beyond appreciation and trending towards idol worship, this blog is for you.
Coffee is medicine. Arteriosclerosis. Brain Stem Stroke. Cancer. Originally I thought I could just build my Coffee ABCs around coffee’s health protective effects. But coffee seems to be such a panace that science announces new discoveries of coffee’s contribution to wellness every day. I’d never be able to stay up-to-date.
Instead, this slideshow does a great job. Plus I can push the burden of keeping it up-to-date on its authors.
Bulletproof way to get fat and lose money. Bulletproof coffee is a mixture of coffee, butter from grassfed cows and XCT oil (which is a marketeers name for medium chain triglycerides which is an overly technical name for coconut oil). The three are blended together and offered up as part of the so-called Bulletproof Diet.
The Bulletproof Diet is the brainchild of former Silicon-Valley-executive-gone-biohacker Dave Asprey. As part of the diet, followers drink Bulletproof coffee as their one and only item for breakfast. Alleged benefits include weight loss, greater energy and extreme mental focus. Of course, to maximize the effects, it’s best if your coffee is Bulletproof brand and your MCT oil is the proprietary Bulletproof XCT version.
This site accurately explains why Bulletproof is bullcrap. There’s nothing wrong with Bulletproof coffee. But if you prefer you coffee black, you’re better off keeping it that way.
Where mocha comes from. That chocolate flavored coffee you love so much is named after the Yemeni port of Mocha. Once the Ethiopians realized the coffee-fueled goldmine they were sitting upon, they became quite protective of their secret. Ultimately, the beans found their way across the Red Sea to Yemen. From their, seedlings found their way upon India-bound ships at port in Mocha.
From India to Ethiopia…wait, no. I mean from India to Java. From Java to Holland. And the rest is history.
All this yet no calories. Coffee. It’s social. It’s sensual. Coffee is history, science. language and culture. Coffee cures what ails you. All that with virtually zero calories. But only when you drink it black.