Is Coffee Actually Good for You?
Coffee’s had a bit of a bad rap on goop—it’s forbidden on the Clean program, and many of the M.D.’s we work with suggest cutting it out, especially when you’re trying to detox. But according to Rachael Smith, a LA-based integrative practitioner (who trained with Dr. Linda Lancaster, one of our go-to’s), coffee is packed with free-radical-fighting antioxidants and can improve brain function, particularly if you pair it with healthy fats to curb the jitters. On Rachael’s protocols, many of which are grounded in Ayurveda, clients who are in touch with their health and bodies determine for themselves if coffee is helpful or not. Here, some reasons to love coffee—in moderation, of course—and how to tell if it’s right for your body, right now:
A Q&A with Rachael Smith
What are coffee’s potential health benefits? Downsides?
We forget (or are not even aware) that coffee starts as a seed of a fruit. It’s the seed of a berry that’s been cleaned, dried, and roasted before we grind it up and drink it.
One the “ pro” side, coffee has high concentrations of antioxidants and important nutrients that naturally fight environmental toxins that damage cells, trigger aging, and even play a part in causing cancer. According to one 2010 study, one small cup of coffee contains about 387mg of antioxidants—more than in red wine, green, or black tea. Caffeine increases alertness energy, which can improve brain function and physical performance, same as workouts.
On the “con” side, coffee is a mild diuretic (or, as we’d say in Ayurveda, it’s very drying), so it can cause more rapid dehydration—an important point to keep in mind if you’re using it as a workout boost. As a stimulant, coffee can also be hard on our adrenals. Someone with adrenal fatigue may be dependent on their cup of coffee, but later in the day, they’re zonked. Or they’re using coffee all day long and struggling to sleep because of the caffeine, when what they really should be doing is addressing their adrenal fatigue.
It’s also important to note that coffee is a convenient vehicle for toxins you don’t want, like sugar and processed flavors, so look at what’s going in your coffee if you don’t drink it black.
I encourage people to drink their coffee black, but if you are okay with dairy, I also think it’s okay to add some organic (raw if you can find it) milk—I have found that most people’s systems prefer goat milk (a topic for another article).
How should we drink coffee—is it okay on an empty stomach?
Because coffee can be quite acidic and therefore a bit aggressive on the digestive tract, I encourage people to drink their coffee with their first meal of the day. If we eat a little with our coffee, it can also slow down our absorption of the caffeine a bit, reducing any “crashing.” For this reason, I also encourage people who are intermittent fasting and drinking their coffee in lieu of breakfast to add a healthy fat such as ghee, coconut oil, olive oil, or raw butter.
The key with coffee is dialing in the right dosage, and the right timing for each individual. If I suggested you eat one orange, the benefits of the vitamin C and other nutrients would be obvious. If I asked you to eat a dozen oranges at once, and you did, the extra sugars, calories, and acidity might not leave you feeling too well. It is never going to be good for any person to drink five cups of coffee a day. When we limit ourselves to one cup, we reap the benefits without the potential hazards.
How much does timing matter for coffee drinkers?
From the Ayurvedic perspective, the best time of day to drink coffee is between 6am and 10am. These hours are considered “kapha time,” which means that it is a “heavy, earthy time of day.” It is slow and cool. Coffee, which is hot, energizing, and drying, is a contrast that can stimulate the digestive fire and the mind in a way that is in balance with that time of day.
Within this 6am-10am window I like to add another suggestion, which is to wait at least one or two hours after rising before having coffee. That gives the body’s clock a window of time to get the “wake-up” hormones flowing. We don’t want to depend on coffee to do the work our own bodies are so brilliantly designed to do already.
I also suggest timing coffee relative to other vitamins or supplements: The impact of vitamin B, for example, can be reduced by coffee, so don’t take it at the same time. And check with your health practitioner to be sure coffee won’t negatively interact with anything else you’re taking.
How important is sourcing?
I’m a big proponent of farmers’ markets—I like knowing where my food comes from and how it’s been handled. You want the seller to be able to tell you where they sourced it—look them in the eye and ask! I also think small producers put their love and positive energy into their product, which is a benefit no matter what you’re eating.
Are there any people who definitely shouldn’t drink coffee?
If your stomach is sensitive to acidic items, coffee may not be the best thing for you right now. If you’re anxious or agitated, same thing. But the essential phrase to highlight here is “right now.” Our bodies are fluid. They are constantly changing. One day, coffee may be great. The next, not so much. It is important for everyone to get in touch with their own body’s signals and learn to read them; then, you can make choices based on real information.
If you are currently having trouble sleeping, suffering from anxiety, blood pressure issues, and/or any kind of acid reflux, I would encourage you to rethink coffee…for right now.
Is decaf okay?
De-caffeinating coffee requires processing and I am not a fan of eating or drinking things that are processed. The body likes whole foods—I do not suggest egg whites to most people for the same reason. Nature has a wisdom that we do not need to interfere with. There are so many beverages that are naturally without caffeine, so why fake it? If you do want decaf, research the processes used. Many decaffeinating processes rely on powerful solvents to break down caffeine—that is not stuff, even in minimal amounts, I would drink.
For some of us, coffee has become a necessary evil for simply getting through already-overwhelming days. Is that a symptom of something larger?
Nature is wise. When the body feels like resting, it’s best to find a way to let it rest and rebuild rather than using any substance to push through the body’s natural cycle. It is easy to get consumed by day-to-day pressures, and a pleasant stimulant to keep us going is a relatively easy vice. The thing is, if we use coffee (or any substance) to bypass our body’s natural need for downtime, all we are doing is deferring biological necessity and setting ourselves up for greater harm later.
For instance, most people’s energy levels dip between 2pm and 4pm. Many cultures use this as “siesta time.” In the US, we’re more likely to push through with coffee and carbs—but the problem with doing that is that for many of us, it pushes the limit on the time window when we can have caffeine without disturbing our sleep at night. I find that this “afternoon lull” is better remedied with a short walk, a green drink, or a ten-minute meditation break.
The reality is, our bodies are naturally energetic—we don’t need coffee to make them so. If you feel as though you do, there is an imbalance to correct. For example, one of my clients is a busy doctor. She runs fairly high-strung, has some blood sugar issues, and high inflammation levels. Insulin (the hormone that helps regulate blood sugar) and uric acid (the chemical that can trigger “gout”) are often related; when insulin levels are low, uric acid tends to be lower, too. We know that people who drink several cups of coffee a day (which is an amount I would not encourage for anyone I know) have lower uric acid levels, and that the antioxidants in coffee have an impact on insulin levels. Taking that information into account, we mix the science with lifestyle choices to create a balanced approach just for her: She begins her day with a ten-minute meditation to center herself. Then she has half a cup of coffee with food before her morning workout—any of the stimulant properties of the caffeine are burned off during her exercise.
What advice do you have for people trying to find out whether coffee could be causing problems for them?
Keep it really simple. Ask yourself: How do you feel? How is your sleep? Are you feeling frazzled?
If any of these apply to you, then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate and refine your coffee usage…again, for right now.
This moment (when I start to bring up a change of habit or routine of any kind) is when most people start to break into a cold sweat in my office. I try to remind them that making a change does not have to be a scary horrible thing. There are many ways to support removing or reducing coffee intake (or working with any other habit that has “turned against us”) using homeopathy and/or nutritional support.
To cut back on coffee, try having warm water with lemon as your first drink of the day. Wait an hour. Then, if you want it, have your coffee, but go with a smaller portion. You may be surprised to find that the lemon water diminishes your need for the coffee. And if you still do want it, you may desire it less.
So much of what we do is creating and adhering to daily rituals. Change is about making modifications to help our bodies perform at optimal levels. Change can be daunting and for this reason, I am an advocate of thinking in terms of adding—rather than just taking away—when we are working to make any dietary or life change. I find that if we frame it positively, it’s much easier to make shifts.
The culture and the mindset of the western world can be quite regimented and punitive: “Don’t eat this or else…” “Exercise this much or else…” “This is how you should meditate,” “Have sex at this time.” Most of my first-time clients are frustrated with themselves because they think they are doing everything wrong. But life, being alive, is fluid, and things are changing within us at every moment. It is my belief that the greatest service that anyone in the field of wellness can do for their clients/patients would be to start a dialogue about learning to feel the ever-shifting signals of their own bodies, rather than turning to fads or Google searches for the answer.
If you walk away from this article with anything, let it be three simple things:
1. If you do drink coffee, allow yourself to enjoy it. The attitude we go through this life with determines so much more than anything we ingest.
2. If something you are ingesting (such as coffee) isn’t agreeing with you, have the courage to listen to your body and don’t fear making a change.
3. There is never going to be one answer for everyone. This does not mean that the quest for health need be painfully complex. It really starts and ends with this simple question: “HOW DO I FEEL?”
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Brooklyn native Rachael Smith found her calling in integrative wellness and energy medicine by accident. After personally experiencing the efficacy of these methods, she devoted her life to mastering and sharing the tools with others. Rachael’s practice involves multiple methods that are tailored for each clients individual needs. Her modalities include Polarity therapy, cranial-sacral therapy, marma point, reflexology, radionics, homeopathy, Bach flowers, mindfulness/meditation, and nutritional and lifestyle support. Rachael’s main office and center is in Los Angeles, but she sees clients and gives lectures/workshops around the globe. If you are interested in working with Rachael, get in touch at [email protected]llness.com
The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of goop, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.