The history and health benefits of our most loved morning fix

Coffee is one of the most consumed beverages on the planet, averaging about 2.25 billion cups of coffee a day, that is a lot of coffee! This week I will be looking at a brief history of coffee, its components and how this affects our health and well-being. As research has now shown there are indeed health benefits to drinking this most delicious drink, although some may wish to stay clear for various reasons which we will also discuss.

To begin with, it is believed that coffee was first discovered by a goat herder named Kahldi in Ethiopia, who noticed that when his goats ate these beans from a specific tree, they were energized, alert and would not sleep! He took his observations to a local monk who made a drink out of the beans and came to the same conclusion. Word soon spread of this discovery and coffee started its journey across the African continent to Europe. Coffee was introduced to North America in mid-1600, however, tea remained the drink of preference. This was until the revolt and the Boston Tea Party, where nationalists revolted against the Crown and the tea tax, imposed by King George III, which resulted in coffee becoming the drink of choice. Since then, a huge industry has been built about around this drink, with coffee shops, accessories and brands all playing their part in our consumption of this most incredible drink. You might well wonder what makes coffee so special and how it has come to take such an important place in our lives?

Research has shown that coffee would appear to have certain health benefits when drunk in moderation, (2-4 cups a day). One of the components of coffee which we are all too familiar with is caffeine. This chemical affects the body by blocking the production adenosine – which is one of the chemicals the body produces which makes us feel tired and sleepy. Therefore, the result is that caffeine, makes us feel more alert and focused, just like those goats! It takes about 30 minutes for caffeine to be absorbed by the body with its effect peaking at 2 hours. The body requires about 4-7 hours to fully eliminate any caffeine from the body, although this may vary a little depending on how sensitive individuals are to caffeine, if you are taking medication and whether you have eaten or not. Coffee also contains potassium, magnesium and other antioxidants and polyphenols, both of which help to reduce inflammation in the body.

This might explain why research has shown that coffee can help to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and Parkinson, even in those individuals who smoke, with other studies (BMJ 2017) having also shown that improving heart health and lower blood pressure, is also associated with drinking coffee. As these diseases, all have an inflammatory component to them.

Coffee is also a source of fiber, a few cups a day is about equal to the fiber in a small banana. The microbes in our gut will ferment this fiber to produce short-chain fatty acids, which in turn, help the good bacteria in our gut to flourish. So, when you have your first cup of coffee in the morning, not only are you getting your brain in gear but you are also ‘waking up’ your gut!

However, coffee is not always beneficial for everyone, as individuals who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, often find that coffee can aggravate their symptoms, causing bloating and discomfort. Coffee is also known for increasing our production of urine, so for those who are sensitive to this, having a last cup of coffee in the early afternoon might be preferable.

Coffee is also an acidic drink, so those who suffer from osteoporosis may want to moderate their coffee intake, as when the body is too acidic it compensates by releasing calcium (which is alkaline) from the bones to maintain the pH balance within the body.

I would also suggest avoiding the sports and energy drinks which have added caffeine, as although they may have the desired effect of making you alert and less tired, they tend to be loaded up with unhealthy sugars to make the drinks more appealing.

For some people, alcohol can increase the effect of caffeine, which may mean that your after-dinner coffee on an evening out might be the reason why you find it hard to sleep that night.

As everyone reacts differently to caffeine, it is important to take into consideration all these factors. Some people do not like the taste, while others look forward to their first cup of coffee. There is also the social aspect of drinking coffee which cannot be undervalued.

These Mocha Overnight Oats are a great blend of our favourite morning flavours!

We now know that coffee is no longer seen as that terrible drink and we now know of its health benefits. I enjoy coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon, these Mocha Overnight Oats are a way of combining coffee and breakfast! However, it is important that each person who drinks coffee, does so, knowing their limits while still enjoying all the pleasure that a fresh cup of coffee can bring.

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Header Photo: Gian Cescon, Unsplash