Is caffeine good or bad for us? I am asked this all the time. As ever, there’s no “one size fits all” answer. I stop drinking caffeine for about 10 years in the hope it would help to rid me of my sleepless nights. Did it work? No, it did not. However, for some people, giving up caffeine is just the ticket to joyful, restful nights. The lesson here is that caffeine has different effects on different people. So to begin, let’s look at what can be good about caffeine.
The Good For Caffeine
Although a mug of coffee in itself isn’t exactly a powerhouse of nutrients, it does contain antioxidants and minerals (e.g. B vitamins, potassium and manganese). If you’re mainlining vats of coffee a day, you’re obviously increasing your intake of these vitamins and minerals, but you’d be much better off having some dark leafy greens and maybe a banana. Sadly, it would appear that in our western world, coffee is the best source of nutrients that many people are willing to invest each day.
In addition, people often forget that chocolate contains caffeine. So, if your daily diet is 3-4 cups of coffee and maybe a bar of chocolate for good measure, you’re dealing with caffeine overload. Go easy! Think about having a couple of cups a day, and maybe cut down on the chocolate just to let your body breathe a sigh of relief.
Stimulation and mood
Caffeine is a well-known stimulant, which might be precisely the reason why you’re having it. It fires up activity in your brain, reducing tiredness and increases alertness. This neurological response can also make you feel happier, as can the fact that caffeine boosts your metabolism. Drinking caffeine before a workout has shown beneficial, helping to power people through workouts with less fatigue and more strength. Interestingly, there is also a Harvard study that shows coffee drinkers have a 20% lower risk of depression and suicide.
Let’s not get too excited here, however—caffeine is a short-term miracle worker, not a miracle cure, and the most you drink it, the less likely you are to feel its effects.
Reduced risk of disease
There are studies that link caffeine consumption to a reduced risk of some significant diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s cirrhosis, and Type 2 diabetes. In short, some caffeine is good for us—and by “some” I mean no more than 4-5 cups (not mugs) a day.
Not a bad argument for stop drinking caffeine. Now for…
Caffeine Is Bad
Caffeine can make some people jittery, anxious and cause them to have palpitations. You may have been drinking the stuff for years, and yet one day you have a cup and your heart beats crazy fast. This response may herald the end of your coffee-drinking days, as it is a sign that your body is not tolerating caffeine as well as it used to. It can be difficult to stop drinking coffee, as caffeine is addictive. However, if you can manage to get through a week without it, you’ll have gone through the withdrawal symptoms by then (e.g. headaches, irritability, and general brain fog) and will be on your way to a life filled with less caffeine.
As noted above, stimulants aren’t exactly what you want when it’s time for bed. So, although I started drinking coffee again after a ten-year hiatus, I never drink it after 2 pm and I’ve never been a daily drinker. More often than not, I drink 3-4 cappuccinos a week, and more for the frothy milk than anything else! It doesn’t affect me much at all, though I have noticed increased energy levels when I work out after a cup (you should see me at Dance Fit at 9 am on a Monday morning!).
This is where caffeine differs for everyone. If you drink it and feel any of the negative side effects, then you should consider avoiding it in the future. There are lots of other hot drinks you can have (though I’d steer clear of decaf—something I’ll discuss another time). For example, you can enjoy chai teas and extravagantly flavored herbal teas. These are nice, warming drinks that will leave you refreshed, calm and glowing instead of feeling like a jittery wreck.