Coffee Depletes Vitamins & Minerals, But is This a Cause For Concern?
5 things you can do to keep enjoying it.
WE SHOULDN'T ENJOY COFFEE, BUT WE DO. Nature’s warning, bitterness, should make us reel away from it but something calls us back, day after day, flipping off the alarm and triggering pleasure within us.
One day we’re told coffee is a health drink, and the next it’s something we should be cutting back on. Each day, westerners chug down between two and four cups, but your cups-per-day may be determined by DNA more than anything else. The ground black bean is the most consumed psychoactive compound on the planet; an everyday addiction many of us can become defensive about when questioned.
Coffee is associated with reduced risk across many diseases: Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, liver cancer, Parkinson’s, and even early death. Drinking coffee is also linked to reduced body fat in women. Without a doubt, coffee is full of antioxidants, providing people with more than any other single source. Antioxidants are like nano-soldiers defending our bodies from an enemy, free radicals. Or that’s the idea anyway.
The truth is, the world’s favourite hot drink depletes micronutrients (vitamins & minerals). These critical molecules are increasingly lacking in our world of overeating foods that are missing them. Should we all stop drinking coffee, or reduce it? Is there a workaround?
If you don’t want to read about the science but want to know how to make coffee drinking healthier, scroll down to ‘5 Things You Can Do About It’.
Depletion of Micronutrients
The steaming mug of pleasure you slurped this morning reduces the absorption of iron. This essential mineral is one of the most prevalent deficiencies in the world. Lack of it may be a severe issue for some groups, including vegetarians. Just one cup of the dark stuff has been shown to reduce the absorption of iron in a hamburger meal by a whopping 39%. The stronger the coffee, the less iron was assimilated. Stores of calcium are also reduced with each uplifting mug full.
Arguably, the most crucial mineral that coffee depletes is magnesium. This chalky nutrient is vital for over 300 reactions in the body and plays a key role in the immune system, cognitive function, bone strength, muscle relaxation, energy production, and you get the point. Magnesium is a common deficiency in modern populations and anything that depletes it should be scrutinised. Consuming coffee reduces both potassium and sodium due to its diuretic effect. This flushing of water from the body also removes some critical vitamins. ‘..drinking coffee is not the reason why many people are nutrient deficient today.’
Water-soluble vitamins — all the Bs and C — can be flushed out of the gut before having a chance to be absorbed. If you continue to lose water this way, more vitamins will vanish along with it. A study of over 10,000 middle-aged, healthy men and women correlated dose-dependent coffee intake with a reduced circulation of B vitamins. The drop in folate (B9) increased levels of homocysteine — a risk factor in heart disease — by 6.8%. Vitamin B1 (thiamine) plays an essential role in energy production. In this role, it is vital for a strong and regular heartbeat. A serious deficiency of thiamine can cause heart failure because the coffee bean contains an enzyme that degrades it.
Be Realistic About The Research
If you clicked on any of the research I cited earlier you may have noticed the same word repeated often. ‘Associated’, or any other expression meaning the same, tells you the study is not designed to show causation. These population-based studies can only show correlations between their data and don’t provide you with your level of risk, despite how they’re reported. Notice also that whilst coffee is used in the titles, most of the papers examine caffeine. Our greatest source of caffeine is coffee, but it’s worth noting, especially if you already drink decaf.
Contradictory research of the same type exists. Coffee consumption was associated with the worsening of obesity. Elderly women with higher consumption of coffee had increased rates of bones loss versus those with low intakes. Caffeine also blocked vitamin D uptake, another essential factor in bone strength.
Coffee is often touted as a health drink because of it’s high levels of antioxidants. The truth about edible antioxidants is that they’ve performed badly in human trials. But the simple idea of goodies versus baddies has captured people’s attention, and companies have cashed in. In a study of smokers given beta-carotene — an antioxidant found in orange coloured fruits and vegetables — researchers discovered lung cancer had worsened. The real goodies are those antioxidants we create in our bodies. They are much more potent and work to quench free radicals 24/7.
The evidence cited for the depletion of micronutrients does allow for causation, and some of the mechanisms are known. However, drinking coffee is not the reason why many people are nutrient deficient today. Monocropping and the widespread use of chemicals have stripped the soils of their naturally high levels of many minerals; most urgently magnesium. The reduced absence in the soil means less inside the plants, making them less nutritious. Further, nutrient-deficient foods (junk) have usurped real foods that are nutrient-dense by default. This poor swap spells an increase in many nutrient deficiencies to the point of disease in some of the most medically advanced countries. Additionally, sugar depletes magnesium and other nutrients in the body because burning it for energy requires extra co-factors, more nutrients.
5 Things You Can Do About It?
1. Change the timing of your meals & supplements.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition demonstrated no reduction in nutrients when coffee was drunk an hour before a meal. But, consuming it with the meal or even an hour later saw nutrients lost. Are you taking supplements with a mouthful of coffee first thing? Maybe you want to rethink that. Be stoic about it; this could be a great motivation to start intermittent fasting!
2. Swap to decaffeinated
Caffeine prevents absorption of minerals at the gut lining, so if it’s not the caffeine you’re after, decaf may be an acceptable swap. Decaf doesn’t have a diuretic effect, and therefore you won’t lose B vitamins, vitamin C or the minerals. The exception to this is iron which is blocked by the antioxidants, not the caffeine.
3. Eat and drink nutritious foods
By adding milk or fortified alternatives to your coffee — if that’s the way you roll — you’ll be making up for the calcium shortfall and adding other nutrients for a win. If you focus on eating real-food meals, not snacks, every day you’re very likely getting enough nutrients despite the coffee.
4. Don’t add sugar
As we know, sugar is a crystalised form of the Devil and should be avoided for many reasons, not least because it takes away more nutrients than it gives you.
5. Three cups per day
Despite much of the research being wishful thinking, it seems that three cups per day is about right for many. However, this boils down to your genes. Ask yourself, ‘how do I feel?’. Does it make you jittery or anxious? If so, consider shifting as per the points above. But, if you’re fit, healthy, sleep well and don’t rely on coffee to get you out of bed, it’s probably fine.
Put The Kettle On
As with all nutrition research, there are confounding factors ranging from bias to genetics which makes it as mixed as a triple, venti, half-sweet, full-fat, caramel Macchiato. Average consumption is safe and may be determined by your genes, so maybe you’re instinctively drinking the right amount. The coffee is a superfood because of its antioxidants thing needs to be put to bed once and for all but it appears this message is getting out.
For those healthy people, a nutrient-dense diet made up of real foods should be enough to counteract the micronutrient depletion effects of caffeine. For those looking to be on the even safer side, a change in timing, amount, or type of coffee may benefit you.
I don’t think coffee is a health drink, but that’s doesn’t mean you can’t be healthy if you drink it. There may also be some benefits to coffee that are beyond the scope of this article. And, without a doubt, there are many subjective benefits to drinking coffee that are not studied. It boils down to this; if coffee gets your day going in a positive way, and you’re healthy, go for it!