It pains me to say it, but I am giving up coffee. As you read this and defend your love of coffee, keep in mind that I live in Eastern Europe – a place where people don’t even bother asking you if you want a cup of coffee when you come over. They just assume you do and immediately start cooking it (we mostly drink Turkish coffee here). So, I am going to have to significantly change my social life and live like more of an outcast by giving up coffee.
While there are certainly many health benefits to drinking coffee, and the whole “is coffee good or bad for you” debate is teaming with controversy and research supporting both sides, I ultimately am giving up coffee for these reasons.
1. I’m Worried About My Bones
Like most health issues related to coffee, the coffee/bone health issue is surrounded in controversy. Some studies show that caffeine is linked to osteoporosis, whereas others don’t show any link. However, all evidence supports the fact that caffeine blocks calcium absorption through the intestinal tract and it depletes the amount of calcium retained by the bones.
Apparently, you can offset the calcium lost from caffeine in coffee by adding two teaspoons of milk to it. But this doesn’t account for the fact that caffeine also blocks magnesium absorption and inhibits vitamin D receptors – which are both very important for bone health. Some gung-ho coffee advocates will say that coffee is also loaded with antioxidants, which are good for bone health. But this also ignores the fact that coffee is very acidic, which is NOT good for your bones.
As a vegan, I know that I need to pay attention to my calcium intake. While it is perfectly possible to get enough calcium on a vegan diet, it isn’t always easy (see examples here). To make sure my bones stay healthy, I am giving up coffee.
Even if you aren’t vegan, it might be wise to give up coffee considering the high prevalence of osteoporosis in the Western world (and give up all those sugary soft drinks while you are at it!). *Sources listed at end of article
2. My Teeth Are In Bad Shape
There is no denying that coffee is bad for your teeth. It is acidic, which wears away the enamel of your teeth. If you drink coffee with sugar (as I do), then you aren’t doing any favors for your teeth in this way either. Coffee also stains your teeth, giving us Eastern Europeans our characteristically brown smiles (most people here can’t afford expensive teeth-whitening procedures). Let’s not forget that caffeine hinders calcium absorption and may strip calcium from your bones – and thus teeth as well.
Apparently, you can gargle with some baking soda and water after drinking coffee. It will quickly bring the pH of your mouth up, thus preventing dental erosion from coffee’s acidity. But, honestly, who is going to carry around packs of baking soda to their local coffee shop? I’d rather get my caffeine kick from less-acidic tea instead!
3. Being an Addict is No Fun
As I write this, my head is slightly pounding and I haven’t enjoyed my normal “regularity” in the bathroom. Those are just two of the effects of caffeine withdrawal. Others, which I am sure you coffee fanatics are familiar with, are irritability, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and slowed metabolism. I feel really bad for my daughter right now because mama is NOT happy, and she is going to suffer because of it too!
Of course, these side effects only occur if you stop drinking coffee, or run out of it. I don’t like having to rely on some substance just to feel normal or to have a morning poop. So, I’m going to quit.
4. Coffee is the Product of Child and Slave Labor
As someone who is vegan mainly for animal rights reasons, I feel hypocritical consuming coffee. According to the Department of Labor, forced labor is used to produce coffee in the Ivory Coast and child labor is used in the following countries:
- Ivory Coast
- Dominican Republic
- El Salvador
- Sierra Leone
This list basically sums up most of the countries where coffee comes from. Brazil isn’t on the DOL list, but apparently child labor also occurs there too.
Children working on coffee plantations are exposed to harsh conditions, snakebites, dangerous chemicals, and often suffer abuse at the hands of their “employers.” And working in a coffee plantation doesn’t exactly help people combat poverty. According to Global Exchange, Guatemalan coffee workers must pick 100 pounds of coffee per day just to make the minimum wage of $3 per day. IHS Children Slave Labor reports that it takes 2.2 hours of labor to produce 1 pound of coffee.
Of course, buying Fair Trade products is an alternative to this. However, I doubt all coffee consumers pay attention to whether their local bistro is using Fair Trade beans or not. Since I don’t even have access to Fair Trade coffee where I live, I think I will finally own up to my moral failings and stop drinking coffee (next up, chocolate…).
If you absolutely must drink coffee, then the moral thing to do is buy a Fair Trade brand. Health food stores usually carry them. Or you can find Fair Trade coffee on Amazon.
5. It is Expensive
Some luxuries in life are worth paying for. If you are fine paying for coffee, then so be it. But I’ve found that quitting coffee has freed up a big chunk of my budget for other luxuries (like beer :).
According to one report, the average 9oz cup of home-brewed coffee costs $1.38, and the average person drinks 3 cups per day. So, that adds up to about $125 per month. Oh, and that is the cost for regular coffee. If you are drinking organic and/or Fair Trade coffee, it is going to be a lot pricier.
By comparison, tea is a lot cheaper. Even organic, Fair Trade tea only costs about 20 cents per bag. That is a savings of over $100 per month.
Or you could just drink water instead, which comes from the tap for almost free.
6. Caffeine Makes You Feel Like Crap
If you are a habitual coffee drinker, then you probably don’t need scientific reports to tell you this. After that coffee buzz wears off, you start feeling tired and cranky unless you get another cup of joe in you pronto. The reason for this is because caffeine increases stress hormones called catecholamines. The stress response makes you produce cortisol and insulin. Cortisol is makes you jittery and anxious. Insulin causes inflammation, which can also make you feel like crap.
Caffeine also can make you feel depressed. Don’t get me wrong – you feel great while drinking it. This is because caffeine boosts serotonin production. But, by doing so, it causes our bodies to get used to elevated levels of serotonin. As Precision Nutrition wrote, “The brain has come to expect more action in its serotonin receptors, and when its abundant supply of happy chemicals is abruptly cut off, it gets crabby.” There is also evidence that caffeine kills serotonin, which means you won’t be able to produce as much serotonin. Combine lower levels of serotonin with higher demand and you’ve got a recipe for depression.
Why Is It So Hard to Determine Whether Coffee is “Good” or “Bad” for You?
These are just some of the reasons why I personally am giving up coffee. There are certainly many people out there who swear by the health benefits of coffee.
Considering all of the research which has been done on coffee and how many people drink it, you’d think that the scientific community would have come to a consensus as to whether coffee is good or bad for health. But it is surprisingly difficult to determine this.
For starters, there is the fact that coffee contains about 1500 chemical compounds, each which may have different health effects on the body. Due to the headline-loving nature of our media, news reports tend to focus on a single compound and ignore all 1499 others. For example, headlines that “coffee is good for your teeth!” swept the media recently because one of the compounds in coffee apparently kills bacteria which causes plague. These articles (like this one from Daily Mail) conveniently overlooked all the other dental issues associated with coffee.
Then there are the lifestyle issues associated with coffee – like how coffee drinkers are more like to be smokers, and non-coffee drinkers tend to follow healthier lifestyle habits like exercising more and healthy diet. Good luck trying to control all of these variables in a pool of human test subjects!
Because of how much controversy is surrounding the coffee-health issue, I am not going to try to make a sweeping generalization as to whether coffee is good or bad for you. What I can encourage you to do is to take a look at your relationship with coffee and decide whether it is worth it to continue drinking it.
Sources for coffee and bone health:
National Osteoporosis Foundation: How the Foods You Eat Affect Your Bones
MedlinePlus: Caffeine in the Diet
New England Journal of Medicine: Risk Factors for Hip Fracture in White Women. Study of Osteoporotic Fractures Research Group
Harvard Medical School: Osteopenia: When You Have Weak Bones, But Not Osteoporosis
Osteopenia.com: Is There Really a Bones-Caffeine Connection?
Effect of Caffeine on Vitamin Absorption
NCBI Hip Fracture in Middle Aged Norwegians