Hi! I’m Andrea Hardy, registered dietitian and owner of Ignite Nutrition. I specialize in functional gut disorders, building a healthy relationship with food, and practical nutrition. I also run an online school called Nutrition Academy. We’re all about making learning about nutrition easy, convenient, and free from overwhelm!
I’m so glad that A Healthy Plate invited me to talk to you guys about an ‘always hot’ topic in my practice – whether or not you should be drinking coffee. When I see clients, they bashfully say, ‘I have coffee. 1-2 cups per day.’ And then quickly follow it up with a ‘but I’m trying to quit’ or ‘I quit once but it didn’t last’ or something of the sort.
I’m not sure when people started to feel so darn guilty about drinking coffee, expecting to be chastised by their dietitian about it. Well. Let me tell you. Coffee is A-OKAY. As long as you do it PROPERLY. Read: moderation, and without all the calorific extras. Follow my three coffee commandments, and you will be doing right by your body!
Coffee Commandment 1 – You should rarely, if ever DRINK your calories.
What people often call their ‘morning coffee’ is actually equivalent to a small meal, and a fistful of sugar because of all the things they add to it! As such, minimize the ‘extras’ you put in your coffee. A bit of milk and sugar is ok, however, it all adds up. When you consume a high-calorie coffee (think a vanilla latte or a coffee with double cream, and double sugar) you are consuming a TON of liquid calories. The problem with that is, liquids have this tricky little effect on satiety (the feeling of fullness). While you may be consuming 300+ calories in that vanilla latte with extra whip, your body just doesn’t compute. You won’t get that same hormonal response that solids trigger, making you feel like you’ve just had something calorie-containing. Despite consuming a mini-meal in the form of a latte, you won’t feel full, and might even still be hungry!
Secondly – you can’t really count a ‘venti vanilla latte, extra pump caramel with whip’ as coffee. Yes, coffee is touted to have health benefits – but add on the high-fructose corn syrup, whipping cream, and artificial colours and flavours? Completely negates the effect – and then some! If you are consuming coffee for health benefits, you should be having it straight up – (or with a bit of milk and sugar, if you require).
Coffee Commandment 2 – Stick to 3 cups or less a day.
I mean three 8oz cups. Not 3 of the ‘biggest mug you have’ cups. A grande at Starbucks is 2 cups, for reference. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing! You can easily become over-caffeinated, jittery, and feeling unwell.
Coffee Commandment 3 – Drink your coffee in the morning, not at night!
Caffeine can effect sleep, even if you don’t notice, it can impact how deeply you sleep. Caffeine’s half-life is about 5-6 hours, so as a general rule, I like to tell my clients to keep their coffee to before lunch. Sleep and sleep hygiene is an integral part of weight management, and your afternoon pick-me-up could be sabotaging that. Keep coffee in the first part of your day, and see how much more restful your sleep is.
What does coffee do for me?
Coffee has a slew of potential benefits for you – to make you feel at ease when drinking your morning cuppa’ joe. Here are a few of coffee’s benefits:
- Coffee is Antioxidant-Rich. Coffee is a rich source of a variety of antioxidants. These powerful little molecules can help protect your cells from damage and scavenge free-radicals in the body. Of course, fruit and veg should be your ‘go-to’ for your anti-oxidant fix, but a little extra help from your daily coffee is a nice perk! These antioxidants may be the mechanism as to why those who drink coffee regularly are protected against inflammatory diseases such as cognitive disorders, and liver disease.
- Coffee can make you happy. In so many words – coffee acts on your neurotransmitters to leave you feeling alert, focused, and happy.
- Coffee can enhance an athletes performance. Because caffeine is a stimulant, research has shown that athletic performance can benefit from caffeine intake in moderate amounts. Caffeine tricks your body into releasing extra epinephrine – your ‘fight or flight’ hormone – thusly getting you ‘pumped up’ for whatever action lies ahead. Beneficial for athletes – but this effect is also what causes you to feel anxious, paranoid, and clammy after drinking one too many doppio espressos – so keep it within reason – and if you ARE using it for athletic performance – test it out before a big event!
Who is coffee not so good for?
- Those who are caffeine sensitive – Consuming caffeine at any level in these individuals can increase blood pressure, cause heart palpitations, and severe jitteriness. Coffee should be avoided by those people.
- Those with psychiatric disorders – Because caffeine futzes around with your neurotransmitters, those with mental health issues can be especially sensitive to caffeine, and its negative effects. While its likely safe for you to drink, and may in fact improve your mood, it’s definitely worth it to check in with your family doctor about if coffee could be impacting you and your diagnosis.
So – now that we know the pros, the cons, and the three coffee commandments, here are some tips to still enjoy a coffee out every now and again!
Practical Coffee Tips
- limit your specialty coffees to less than once a week, and order a tall
- order drink half sweet
- choose skim milk
- add milk instead of cream to your coffee
- enjoy a lower calorie, portion controlled drink: like a small cappuccino, for around 60 calories
- Splurge on an Americanos instead of drip-coffee (espresso pressed with water). Enjoy the luxury of espresso without having it in a latte or cappuccino. If you’re not a black coffee kind of person, add a splash of milk and top with some cinnamon to help cut the bitterness.
And remember, those specialty coffees with syrups and whipped cream and sprinkles? Let’s keep in mind those are more like desserts. On the weekend, I will occasionally treat myself with a flat white or caramel macchiato. I suggest you save your elaborate drink orders for a weekend treat, and choose low-cal, coffee based drinks during the week to get all the coffee benefits, without the sugar crash afterward!