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I’ve said goodbye to sugar before, I’ve walked away from spag’ bol’ (well, the ‘spag’ part at least) and even freshly baked bread doesn’t call my name as I pass a bakery anymore. But the one thing I always come back to, the one thing that I can’t seem to shake, the one thing that has a hold on me like the instagram account of a bad boyfriend, is coffee.

As I wake up and fumble aimlessly around my piles of half read magazines for the snooze button, it is one of the first thoughts that fights its way to the top of my mind. Coffee. (That, and why the hell everyone I follow on Facebook seems to be having babies.)

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I want to know why I can say sayonara to cake, but not to my morning cuppa.

Through my hours of reading nutrition books, my weekends spent thumbing through ‘clean’ cookbooks and the seemingly endless stream of health food blogs I find myself glued to daily, I have come to the conclusion that you can twist any “recent studies” or medical journal to support what you like. Eat a lot of Coco Pops? There is probably evidence out there that can link the coco content to a particularly high count of anti-oxidants. Is wine you’re favourite tipple? Well hey now, that’s practically fruit juice, it might as well be part of your five plus a day.

Here is the thing. I’m not going to stop drinking coffee. I like it. It tastes good. I don’t have 39 cups a day, and I function perfectly well without it. I’m not addicted, but I simply don’t want to step away from my few cups a week. I do, however, want to know what it’s really doing to me. (Aside from my basic knowledge of “waking me up”).

NB With a food industry shrouded in lies and secrecy, all I ever want from my research is to simply know and understand what I’m putting into my body. Sometimes when I know and understand what something is doing to me, I choose to stop eating it, other times I won’t. My gripe with the current state of the industry isn’t usually the food itself, it’s the way it’s disguised or packaged as something else (‘natural’, ‘healthy’, etc). It is the way that my choices are often taken from me. If I don’t want to eat sugar, or salt, or flour, or nuts or {insert what you like here} it is made very difficult, because almost everything on our shelves has a ridiculous list of ingredients including so many things (often referenced in multiple different ways that are all equally as difficult to understand) that simply don’t need to be there purely to elongate shelf life.

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So, without the agenda of giving up or even cutting back, I just want to know what is going on behind the scenes when I sit back, relax and enjoy my morning flat white.

To go back to the basics of what’s in our cup of joe; a coffee bean is the seed found inside the fruit of a coffee plant. In it’s raw form, the bean is a green colour (roll on the “raw, green, almond milk, skinny cappuccino” at your local Costa), that’s then roasted to form what we recognise. From there to your caramel latte, it’s ground finely and (nearly boiling – but not quite) water is pressured through the beans. Thats your espresso, then you milk or sugar syrup of choice is sloshed on top. Voila – and all for the bargain price of £2.20. Unless of course, you live in anywhere other than London, then it is probably 50% cheaper (you lucky bugger).

But enough with setting the scene, what I really want to know is what it is doing to me and what are the long term effects on my body.

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Caffeine takes hold when it hits the liver, it is there that it over rides your neuromodulator adenosine (making you not sleepy anymore), followed quickly by a dopamine rush (caused by your vessel constricting due to that massive hit of caffeine). It basically sets your body up with adrenaline, the sort that we would have previously needed to fight off big scary predators – making us more alert. The effects of caffeine can last up to six hours, but more commonly stick around for three to four.

After sifting through all this research (and tasting multiple cups in the process) I can tell you that here in Britain, we spent £730 million on coffee last year, and that one in five of us now visit a coffee shop daily. I can also tell you that that is more that twice as many as 2010. Making us a fast growing nation of coffee addicts (or sufferers from ‘caffeine-use disorder’, a term recently coined by the Journal of Caffeine Research to refer to anyone who regularly consumes more than the RDA of 400mg of caffeine daily).

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I found hugely conflicting scientific studies; such as two different studies done this year, one claiming “coffee drinkers have a lower risk of depression”, the other “caffeine increases anxiety”. Or how about in 2013, when caffeine was claimed to lead to a higher sperm count, directly conflicting the 2012 publicised research suggesting heavy coffee drinkers had hugely lower IVF success rates than their caffeine free friends. Christine Bailey from Advanced Nutrition says that not only does “One shot of caffeine 30 minutes before exercise significantly enhance performance”, but also, “including it in your post-workout shake can restore glycogen levels 66% better than if you didn’t”. But it’s well known that caffeine blocks your adenosine (a chemical in the human body that brings on sleep), and lack of sleep comes with a cocktail of problems, including weight gain, poor immunity and lack of concentration. So, with so many of us heading to our local Starbucks each morning, are we going to become a nation of super athletes? Or over weight, sleep deprived and easily distracted by shiny objects?

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The truth is, nobody really knows.

Much like the Twilight series*, there are good points and bad to our newly forming daily habit. But, it is probably mostly about how often and when we are choosing to kick back with our cuppa. (For example, multiple times a day = not so great, where as every now and then = probably won’t kill us. Or how about, pre workout = good, pre bed = less good).

With such conflicting and contradictory evidence out there it’s hard to know what to do. So my advice to you, until the jury comes back with some serious evidence, is to think about your circumstances. If children run screaming from you until you’re united with you morning macchiato, maybe you should take a step back. It’s never a great idea to be reliant on anything – even if its healthy (I say whilst eying up the bulk bag of cashews calling my name in the corner). Where as if it something you do every now and then – hey, stop beating yourself up and just anjou the ride.

Literally.

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*The thought behind this comparison, to explain the inner workings of my (maybe slightly wired on coffee) brain is thus; ‘Twilight’ is poorly written. It will never win any form of literature award, and so it shouldn’t. It is, mostly likely, rotting our brain. But it’s quite amusing and oddly addictive. It isn’t as bad as ’50 Shades of Grey’ (the equivalent of shooting coke into your eyeballs), but its no Luminaries (aka the Matcha tea). Have I completely confused you with my beverage vs book metaphors? Good. 

3 Comments on What’s worse for your brain – a flat white or the Twilight series?

  1. Matthew
    October 21, 2014 at 9:36 pm (3 years ago)

    You’ll be surprised, but I couldn’t agree more about almost all the points you make (sorry, but cashews are just the devil’s clagnuts), particularly about the dishonesty of the food industry. Humans are omnivores, we can and do eat anything – including sugar, fat and salt. But we’re simply not equipped to deal with the sheer quantity of food in general and of sugar, fat and salt in particular that are being snuck into our diets.

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