Coffee and its health benefits: a debate


St Andrews students have an array of choices when it comes to choosing a cup of coffee in town with over 60 establishments that sell one of the world’s most popular caffeinated beverages. With their low light, indie music and endless supply of caffeine, cafés provide us with an environment that is perfect for a rainy day date, afternoon study session or a friendly catch up. Whether your favourite is Taste, Zest, Costa or Starbucks, there is no arguing that the university would have a serious problem in the case of a coffee shortage. But what kind of effect does this addiction have on our health and our lives? Do the benefits of drinking coffee outweigh the negative properties and how do we make sure that our casual cup doesn’t turn in to a full addiction?

The common conception used to be that coffee only negatively affected our health but recent studies have challenged these views. Coffee consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and depression. Caffeine is a stimulant and its side effects are the reason why most people drink one or more cups a day with America averaging roughly 400 million cups of coffee consumed per day and 146 billion cups per year. Starbucks has used coffee addiction to their benefit and now operate in 62 countries with over 20,000 stores world wide, making them the largest coffee company in the world. The stimulating effects of coffee can improve productivity and alertness as well as reduce that groggy 5 o’clock feeling that we all know too well. This is due to caffeine’s ability to block the neurotransmitter adenosine which causes our brains to feel tired and less responsive than normal. Because of this factor, coffee naps have become a popular recent trend. A coffee nap is when a cup of coffee is consumed right before taking a short 20 or 30-minute nap. This gives one the benefit of a power nap without the groggy post-nap feeling that usually ruins the perfect mid afternoon snooze. This block of adenosine also promotes an increase of dopamine and epinephrine which leads to increased positive moods and general alertness, making the next cup of coffee even more tempting.

Another additional and rather appealing characteristic of caffeine is its ability to increase the body’s metabolic rate therefore leading to an increase of fat-burning. While the positives might outweigh the negatives of coffee consumption, there are some properties that should not be overlooked. Some still argue against coffee because of it’s addictive properties. Caffeine tolerance is common in regular coffee drinkers and will lessen the effects of coffee overtime. Starting out with one cup of coffee a day might not seem like much but in my own personal experience one cup of coffee quickly turns in to two or three to get you through the day. This is reflected in the amount of coffee consumed worldwide as well. The average American coffee drinker drinks roughly three nine-ounce cups a day; beckoning the question of whether or not this type of dependence is something that we want to promote in our daily lives.

Caffeine withdrawals are also common in those with coffee addictions and missing your morning cup can lead to headaches, irritability and anxiety. Another health problem that comes along with coffee is an in creased consumption of sugar. While there are many health benefits to drinking coffee, these studies are only referring to a cup of black coffee with no additives and statistics show that around 65% of coffee drinkers add cream or sugar to their daily brew. If you are the kind of person that drinks a Starbucks frappuccino every morning, then you might want to rethink your habits. According the Starbucks website, a grande sized Starbucks caramel frappuccino contains a whopping 420 calories, 15 grams of fat and 66 grams of sugar. For a bit of perspective, the recommended daily amount of sugar for an adult female is 25 grams, making the frappuccino worth over twice the recommended daily amount.

Those who are opposed to coffee often reach for a cup of tea instead. Choosing tea instead of coffee can be a good alternative if trying to reduce sugar consumption while keeping the same caffeinating effects. Green tea has also been proven to aid in weight loss and can help boost your immune system but whichever you choose, both have their positive and negative effects and can be consumed healthily in moderation. As long as frappuccinos don’t become a stable of your diet then coffee and tea drinkers don’t have too much to worry about. So I’ll leave it up to you, St Andrews, to decide if we should fill up our Rector’s Café punch cards or unplug our Nespresso machines.


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