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  • AP Photo/David Goldman Billy Thompson walks with a cup of coffee after dropping his car off for repair as the sun rises in Lula, Ga., on Jan. 12.

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    AP Photo/Andrew Medichini From left, Philippines Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay, National Democratic Front of the Philippines, NDFP, leader Jose Maria Sison, and Norwegian Special Envoy Elisabeth Slattum, have coffee prior to the formal opening of the Philippines peace talks in Rome, Jan. 19.

  • AP Photo/David Goldman Billy Thompson walks with a cup of coffee after dropping his car off for repair as the sun rises in Lula, Ga., on Jan. 12.

  • 1

    AP Photo/Andrew Medichini From left, Philippines Foreign Minister Perfecto Yasay, National Democratic Front of the Philippines, NDFP, leader Jose Maria Sison, and Norwegian Special Envoy Elisabeth Slattum, have coffee prior to the formal opening of the Philippines peace talks in Rome, Jan. 19.

By JERRY HITCHCOCK

Staff Writer

Roughly two years ago I joined the coffee brigade.

And not strictly by choice — I just had a hard time seeing good java go to waste.

For a time, our daughter was living in the area and working at Starbucks. She’d drop off her weekly “mark out,” or free product, which was always a package of coffee. The smell of Colombian Joe would waft through the house shortly before I was awake. and my wife would make a pot every day, then most of the time we’d end up dumping a few cups and re-loading it for the next day, since we had so much free coffee.

Soon, I couldn’t see the point of pouring good stuff down the sink — I had to give it an honest shot. If I could switch over from soda, it’d save a little on the grocery bill.

For decades, I would start my day with a caffeinated soft drink, sometimes diet, sometimes not. Changing to the warm java was something I thought would never happen.

But nonetheless, I slowly came around, and now I have to have two large mugs a day to fire up the engines and hit the day with fuel to burn.

Lately, I’ve wanted to do some research and see what exactly coffee is doing to our bodies, and is any of it for the better?

Surprisingly (at least to me) coffee has a high antioxidant level, those little powerhouses which prevent cells from being oxidized by toxins and chemicals, and can calm inflammation.

Coffee contains B vitamins, magnesium and potassium, and it should come as no shock that the stimulant caffeine is the main reason you get that morning jolt.

Caffeine is a stimulant, and as long as it is not ingested in excessive amounts, studies have shown it is safe for regular use. Research is showing three cups a day can actually lengthen lifespan as it lowers the rise of death from many conditions, including heart disease.

When you drink coffee, the caffeine gets absorbed into the bloodstream, eventually making its way to the brain where it recharges certain neurons, resulting in improved memory, mood, energy and cognitive function when consumed in moderation.

I’m always looking out for athletic performance studies where caffeine is the main focus. There are a few reports out there now that state caffeine ingestion can improve performance between 10 and 12 percent. Caffeine aids the breakdown of body fat for energy, which helps some of us who are not exactly living at our “fight weight.”

Cycling sprinters have used caffeine to give them an edge for decades. Downing a can of Coca-Cola shortly before the end of the race was a common thing, but this practice has recently been replaced by more convenient caffeine-injected gels, which are lighter to carry and easier to get down in the heat of a race.

Researchers are still testing the theory that caffeine can boost your metabolic rate and burn body fat BOTH during exercise and at rest. Studies are ongoing, but show promise that using caffeine before exercise is helping obese people slim down.

Under the inconsistent label you’ll find recent research linking coffee to reduced effects and advancement of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Larger and follow-up studies hope to tighten up the results.

Also, the jury is still out on research linking coffee and a lowered risk of developing type 2 diabetes. So far, the studies have failed to separate participants maintaining a healthy weight (and exercising regularly) and those who are overweight (with little to no exercise activity).

Caffeine is a diuretic, and as such, it makes the body produce urine quicker than normal. Caffeine can affect those sensitive to it drastically, causing dizziness, tremors and insomnia in many cases.

And fans of creamers, artificial sweeteners and flavors are out of luck. These all add calories and there may even been a link to decreased effectiveness of caffeine as a stimulant and antioxidant booster, although focused studies on such are some time away.

But for now, you should probably be a fan of coffee. Compared to many other foods and drinks we consume on a daily basis, the cup of joe will get you there — more often than not.

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Jerry Hitchcock can be reached via email at jhitchcock@cdapress.com or follow him on Twitter at HitchTheWriter.

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