I was more of a chai latte kinda gal before I moved back to Melbourne and started drinking the delicious golden nectar, but I’ve been hooked ever since. I love the ritual and the taste. It is a non-negotiable part of my morning (not sure if that’s my brain talking about the coffee, or my heart talking about my crushes on some of the many bearded baristas of Melbourne). Trial and error and a four year health science degree has allowed me to come up with a couple of “rules” for myself regarding my (bon)soy latte intake:

1. One a day (sometimes two… sometimes)
2. Never on an empty stomach (your adrenals, nervous system and digestion will thank you)
3. Always choose organic milk
4. And… always in a glass keep-cup to avoid BPA and other nasty xenoestrogens found in plastic lined takeaway cups – and to reduce environmental waste.

The benefits of coffee:

When used properly, coffee can help to keep you alert and switched on. It is a high source of antioxidants due to it’s flavonoid content, and there is research suggesting that coffee reduces the risk of colorectal and liver cancer. This is a good thing! However too much of a good thing, is generally not a good thing.

The other side of the coin:

Coffee increases one of our hormones called cortisol, which is a hormone that can affect our weight, mood, immune system and sex hormones. Cortisol levels peak when we wake up, so instead of adding to that already elevated cortisol level with coffee as soon as you jump out of bed, wait at least an hour until after you’ve woken up before you have a coffee. People who have been under chronic stress for a long period of time and are likely to have abnormally elevated or dysregulated cortisol levels, may be best to avoid caffeine whilst they are working on rebalancing their cortisol and nervous system.

Waiting an hour or so to have your morning coffee also (hopefully!) ensures that you will have eaten breakfast before your daily dose of caffeine. Coffee on an empty stomach is absorbed straight into the bloodstream, giving your adrenals and nervous system a beating. Having coffee after food means the absorption is slower and more sustained, and you don’t end up high on caffeine. Coffee on an empty stomach can also trigger digestive symptoms which are less likely when you have food in your stomach.

Coffee increases cortisol because it is a central nervous system stimulant. For those with anxiety, further stimulation of the nervous system is usually undesirable, so it may be best to stick to half-strength, decaf or even herbal tea. And if you suffer from sleeping issues, caffeine can also interfere with adenosine (a neurotransmitter involved in sleep). It generally takes between 8-12 hours for coffee to completely metabolise out of the body, meaning it’s best to have coffee in the morning to prevent sleep disruption, or avoid it all together if you are really sensitive to stimulation.

When taking nutritional supplements (especially minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc) it’s best to have coffee 2 hours either before or after these, as the tannins in coffee and tea bind to these minerals and prevent their absorption. If you have a nutrient deficiency it is also a good idea to keep your coffee intake away from meals, to ensure you’re getting the best nutritional bang for your buck from your food. In severely deficient states, cutting coffee out all together until that deficiency is rectified can also be a good idea.

Other things to consider include supporting coffee growers which are fair-trade (most of the worlds coffee comes from Africa, South America and South East Asia, where working conditions can be questionable – choose reputable and ethical coffee suppliers), and choose organic where possible. Coffee is heavily sprayed with pesticides – choosing organic beans benefits your health, the health of the coffee growers and the health of the environment.

So if you, like me, refuse to give up your daily caffeine fix… sip your coffee peacefully, mindfully and enjoy every last drop of it; and know that you are assisting yourself in meeting your daily quota of polyphenols (that’s fancy talk for antioxidants) whilst doing so… and supporting the livelihood of many handsome baristas.

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