Could what you add to your coffee be a health buzz-kill?

How do you take your coffee? With milk, cream, bulletproof style with MCT or coconut oil and butter or ghee? While there continues to be what feels like weekly studies saying that coffee is healthy and then not, what you add to your coffee could be the heath clincher.

There are some foods whose healthful benefits are constantly debated. They include coffee, chocolate, tea and red wine. Let’s talk about their positive health aspects for a change.

There’s one word that sums them all up:

Polyphenols.

Have you heard of polyphenols? I’ll talk about what they do for us in a moment, but polyphenols are a plant’s naturally occurring defence system against attacks by insects. Polyphenols like anthocyanins give plants a red, purple or blue colour.

Polyphenols, also known as phenolics, are naturally occurring phytochemicals (or plant chemicals) that have antioxidant power.

There are over 8,000 identified polyphenols found in foods such as tea, wine, coffee, chocolate, fruits, vegetables, and extra virgin olive oil, just to name a few. Although we need to consume larger amounts, herbs and spices also have a surprisingly high level of polyphenols: capsaicin in chilli and paprika, thymol in thyme, cinnamic acid in cinnamon and rosmarinic acid in rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage and peppermint. You’ll likely have heard of the polyphenol resveratrol in red wine, and the ongoing argument about red wine being ‘good-for-you’ is true, from an antioxidant perspective.

You’ll notice polyphenols by their bitter taste. Like tea that’s brewed too strongly (often called tannins) and in the “greenish” flavour of extra-virgin olive oil that gets you in the back of your throat or the back palate of red wine and the bitterness of a 70% or more dark chocolate. Anything that makes your mouth pucker generally contains polyphenols.

Polyphenols’ superpower is that they neutralize free radicals, reduce inflammation, slow the growth of tumours and control the rate at which you age. Sounds like magic doesn’t it? Even more magical is that they play an important role in preventing and reducing the progression of diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, dementia and cardiovascular disease. I’m not done yet. They also help overall health, weight management and disease prevention because they are a prebiotic, increasing the ratio of beneficial bacteria in your gut and microbiome.

With all this superpower, is there a downside?

Not really, although you can eliminate polyphenols in a few ways. Adding milk or cream to your tea or coffee can be a polyphenol buzz kill because it binds to the polyphenols. So while you’re now jumping for joy that you can drink all the coffee you want and all the tea in china (and yes, chocolate and red wine in moderation), drinking it black is definitely the way to go.

How much do we need?

We need a constant supply of polyphenols to keep up with all the oxidative stress and free radical damage that’s happening in our body. Even if you lived in a bubble, you’d still need them.

Polyphenols are like your own natural pharmacy. Variety is key, keeping in mind the darker the colour, the better.

On average, 100 grams of fresh fruits (grapes, apples, pears, cherries, and berries) contain up to 300 mg of polyphenols. A typical cup of tea or coffee or a glass of red wine contains more than 100 mg of polyphenols.

Drinking Moroccan Mint tea for instance, contains both black tea and mint – a double whammy of polyphenols. Green tea has always ranked highly for its anti-inflammatory properties, helping to burn more fat and prevent obesity – now you know why.

Is all coffee equal?

I’m glad you asked! As with all growing plants, from conventional blueberries to vineyards, coffee crops are sprayed with herbicides and pesticides. In fact, conventional coffee (non-organic) is among the most heavily sprayed crops in the world (tea ranks up there too). Most coffee shops – chain or local – don’t serve organic coffee, and the same goes for what you purchase and make at home.

Is it worth the extra cost? The short answer is yes, though it also depends on how much you drink. If you’re consuming multiple cups on a daily basis, organic is better for you. If your local coffee shop doesn’t serve organic, start asking. Start a revolution and get organic options on the menu. If you don’t ask, nothing will change.

Other health benefits of polyphenols

  • Inhibit angiogenesis, which is the growth of blood vessels that feed a cancerous tumor.
  • Protect cells in your brain, preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s.
  • Protect your skin cells from UV damage, slowing the effects of ageing.
  • Reduce inflammation.
  • Protect your heart and cardiovascular system, including blood pressure.
  • Support normal blood sugar levels to avoid diabetes.
  • Influence your gut microbiome by reducing the number of bad bacteria.
  • Help your body burn 50% more fat while you sleep.

I came across this visual and knew you needed to see it too:

Listen to my segment about coffee and polyphenols from the Jerry Agar show on NEWSTALK1010 radio:

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