We are a world of coffee lovers. You only have to note the number of coffee shops opening to see just how much we love our coffee.
However, (there always has to be a ‘but’ when it comes to things we love), although freshly filtered organic coffee has many health benefits, when drank in moderation, there are also a fair few downsides to this heavenly brew. Most of which comes down to coffee’s caffeine content.
Caffeine is a stimulant that kick-starts us first thing in the morning and offers a quick pick-me-up throughout the day. But this kick of energy sadly comes at a cost.
Cortisol is a hormone and one of the body’s chemical messengers linked with weight-gain. Despite the bad rap it gets in regards to weight gain, cortisol is a very important hormone that has many essential functions within the body. But just like anything, too much or too little is problematic.
Some symptoms of having too much cortisol are fatigue, excess body fat and an inability to lose weight (regardless of a healthy diet and exercise), mood fluctuations, anxiety and depression. Many of these symptoms are experienced by heavy coffee drinkers.
For many, feeling tired has become an accepted norm. We turn to coffee to keep us going through the day. Not realising this keeps cortisol and adrenalin levels elevated, which in turn causes more fatigue. Continuous high cortisol levels lead to excess fat.
To help us see how this happens let’s take a brief look at Cortisol and its function within the body: Cortisol is produced by the adrenal cortex. Like adrenaline, it is released in response to stress. Combined with adrenaline, it is intended to give a boost of energy in times of danger (also known as flight or fight response). This release gives us the energy to run away from dangerous situations.
These days, however, the main triggers of cortisol come from stress, usually work and lifestyle related, and by the consumption of everyday stimulants such as coffee. The problem is we generally do not use the extra rush of energy pumped into the bloodstream from cortisol.
The energy rush turns into sugar or glucose in the bloodstream. If blood sugar levels remain too high (from drinking too much coffee for example), it leads to serious health problems, even death. But the body is brilliant at protecting itself. To reduce blood sugars it orders insulin receptors to mop up the unused sugar floating around the bloodstream. Which often gets turned into fat (normally on the belly)! Fat is stored energy which should be used during activity. Our lives are now so sedentary that stored fat does not get used. It just builds.
The easy solution would be to suggest giving up coffee. But I realise it would be easier for most to sew their heads to the carpet than to kick their caffeine habit.
The good news is there are ways to enjoy coffee, whilst avoiding or reducing cortisol spikes, which may help reduce belly fat. Here they are:
- Only drink coffee with food: Drinking coffee on an empty stomach means the caffeine hits the blood stream very quickly. Having it with low-sugar-forming food, such as protein or fat, slows down caffeine’s absorption.
- Take your coffee with a healthy source of fat: Healthy fats such as coconut oil or butter slows down caffeine’s effects. Adding butter to coffee, also known as Bulletproof Coffee, is popular amongst people on low-carb diets. The butter fat keeps you full for longer and is a great source of fuel.
- Never take your coffee with sugar: Sugar in drinks quickly turns to fat in the body.
- Replace a couple of coffees with tea: The caffeine content of tea is considerably less than coffee.
- Drink half and half: Mix together half decaffeinated with half your regular coffee. Ask the barrister at your favourite coffee shop for 1 shot regular coffee and 1 shot decaf.
- Learn to relax: If you are in a demanding job or constantly stressed, and drink coffee to help you keep going, learn to relax. Take up yoga, meditate, or perform yogic breathing techniques. Yoga is amazing! It significantly reduces stress and is anti-ageing. It also helps prevent or reverse the damaging effects of cortisol.