The Magical Elixir Coffee and Its Dark Side

  • By Rachel Perlmutter
  • May 26
A barista with pour over coffee

Magical Elixir Coffee – The drinking of coffee is an intricate part of practically every culture in the world. In countries like Ethiopia, the preparation and drinking of coffee is a ritual and in Italy, Sweden, Turkey, Vietnam, Malaysia, Mexico and Brazil, there are unique traditions developed around the preparation and drinking of coffee. Almost 62% of all Americans drink coffee and most of them report they drink coffee to wake up in the morning and to refresh themselves when they are tired.  A steaming cup of fresh brewed coffee can bring warmth and comfort on a chilly day and be the reason for gathering with a group of friends. The good news is that coffee has amazing health benefits along with its social and cultural aspects.

The Powerful Health Effects of Coffee

Coffee is a complex brew and more than 10,000 research papers have been published over the last twenty years related to the health benefits of caffeine found in coffee. Coffee is also a major food industry in the United States. The total economic impact of the coffee industry in the United States in 2015 was $225.2 billion. Coffee-related economic activity comprises approximately 1.6% of the total U.S. gross domestic product. With all the coffee being guzzled, what are the outcomes on our health?


The average American drinks two cups of coffee per day and the caffeine content of each cup  of coffee varies depending on the type of coffee bean, how it is roasted and ground, how the coffee is brewed and whether you dilute your coffee with water or whiteners. On average, a cup of coffee is estimated to have 100 mg of caffeine. Both the numerous plant compounds and the caffeine in coffee contribute to making this magical elixir one the healthiest natural drinks.


Let’s examine some of the top health reasons to drink coffee. Coffee is one of the most power sources of natural antioxidants which are compounds we all need to fight inflammation and aging. Coffee drinkers can lower their risk of getting Type II Diabetes by 8%-33% because coffee seems to increase the effectiveness of insulin and glucose metabolism in the body. Evidence suggests that drinking coffee regularly may lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. Researchers found a link between moderate coffee consumption and a 21% lower risk of cardiovascular disease deaths.


Coffee can also improve emotional health in those who suffer from depression. A major research studied concluded that there was a direct association between coffee consumption and a decrease in depression with just one cup of coffee. In another major study, drinking 3-5 cups of coffee a day after the age of 50 was associated with a potential decrease of dementia and Alzheimer. While this type of effect needs more research, it is exciting to know that coffee may be beneficial in protecting the brain from aging.


Decaffeinated Coffee Has the Same Health Benefits

Not everyone wants the buzz that coffee brings due to the caffeine, yet they still want the taste, warmth, and health benefits. Fortunately, with or without the caffeine, coffee is rich in biologically active substances which are both the source of its aroma and flavor as well as its health benefits. However, the source of your decaffeinated coffee is particularly important because often this type of coffee is made by using chemicals to strip out the caffeine. Make sure your decaffeinated coffee is made by a water-based process to preserve the purity of your brew.


Potential Side Effects of Excess Coffee

Everyone is different when it comes to their tolerance of caffeine. Caffeine is broken down in the liver and some people don’t have the right level of certain liver enzymes to properly break down caffeine. Other people seem to be more sensitive to the stimulatory effects of caffeine and can easily get the jitters and have trouble falling asleep if they drink too much coffee.

One negative aspect of constantly drinking coffee is that you are always stimulating your body. This can cause some downsides with your adrenal glands as it might stay too alert in the “flight or fight” sympathetic mode. When this happens, you can start to get irritable or anxious.

Another potential side effect of drinking too much coffee is the caffeine can interfere with a neurotransmitter called GABA. This calming neurotransmitter helps with stress management and getting quality sleep. Caffeine can prevent the binding of GABA to GABA receptors, which is another reason why caffeine can make some people feel more anxious.

The Problem with Major Coffee Brands

Over 85% of coffee drinkers get their coffee outside of the house. That means they are relying on someone else to pick their coffee source for them. There are dozens of brands of coffee on the market, ranging from big sellers sold by major corporations to boutique, sustainably sourced, organic brands. The top two brands sold in the United States are Folgers and Maxwell House. Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts are the top retail coffee shop chains.

Folger’s coffee is operated by Proctor & Gamble, one of the largest American-owned multinational corporations in the world. Folgers gets their coffee beans from a variety of growing places in Central and South America and it is not pesticide, herbicide or fungicide free. In fact, generally speaking, coffee is one of the most adulterated crops when it comes to chemicals. Folger’s does not offer an organic variety and because they produce a vast volume of pre-ground coffee each month, there is no guarantee you are getting a fresh, wholesome bag of coffee. In addition, there is a dark side to coffee sourcing. Folgers is not a fair trade coffee and, thus, they show a lack of commitment to both the farmers and the environment that produces their coffee beans.

Maxwell House coffee is owned by the food giant corporation Kraft Heinz and has for decades been a leading competitor of Folger’s. Maxwell House uses 100% Arabica coffee beans from growing sources in Central and South America. It has the same issues as Folger’s coffee in that it is a mass-produced product that is neither sustainably sourced nor fair trade compliant. Since Maxwell House is from conventionally grown coffee plants, the beans have been treated with synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides.

Organic Coffee: A Better Choice

The U.S. Congress created the National Organic Program (NOP) in 2001 to develop and enforce national standards for all organic agricultural products worldwide that are sold in the U.S. A coffee brand can be labeled organic if it is both grown and processed without the use of any type of pesticide or fertilizers. In addition, the coffee bean farm must chemical-free for three years to receive an organic certification.

How to Toxify Your Coffee

Coffee is a lot more complex than just some ground coffee beans brewed with hot water. Coffee is a complex mixture of more than a thousand chemicals and while the coffee you order from a shop is somewhat different that from your home coffee maker brew, the chemical composition is about the same. Caffeine is the most sought-after chemical in coffee for is stimulatory effect, but there are also tannins, phenolics, volatile compounds that give aroma, and organic acids. All these chemicals are natural, organic constituents from the coffee bean.

There are only 5 calories in a plain cup of coffee that has not been rendered less healthy with added sweeteners, sugar, and whiteners. However, about 40% of people use sweeteners and whiteners in their coffee. Add some whole milk and a couple of packs of sugar and you have added about 150 calories with 5 grams of fat and 40 grams of carbohydrates. Maybe you’ll add a sprinkle of cocoa powder or a teaspoon of flavoring and now you have really adulterated a wonderful health product.


Starbucks has done more than just about any retail coffee chain to really ruin a good, healthy cup of coffee. Their multitude of flavored coffees and large sizes of cups heaps on the sugar, fat and calories. For instance, their signature Carmel Macchiato has 270 calories for a medium cup with 10 grams of fat and 30 grams of carbohydrates. Everyone seems to love their holiday specialty drinks, and their Peppermint Mocha with whipped cream has 356 calories with 19 grams of fat and 53 grams of carbohydrates. It is not a good idea to start off your day with one of these blood sugar bombs.

The No-No of Non-Dairy Creamers

Aside from the obvious oxymoron, what the heck is in these non-dairy creamers? In one easy pour to lighten your coffee, you’ve just added sugar, oils, thickeners, and preservatives. Doesn’t that sound tasty? Here is a little bit more of an explanation of what is inside that bottle or packet of Nestle Coffee Mate:

  • Glucose syrup
  • hydrogenated vegetable oil
  • palm kernel and/or soybean oil
  • sodium caseinate
  • dipotassium phosphate
  • sodium aluminum silicate
  • monoglycerides
  • acetylated tartaric acid esters

Nestle also produced a large variety of regular coffee creamers but because they don’t actual contain cream, they are referred to as whiteners. They have a specialty line called “Natural Bliss” that they tout as healthy because Nestle formulates them with nut milk, but the ingredients are equally unhealthy:

  • Almond Milk
  • Cane Sugar
  • Pea Protein
  • Baking Soda
  • Flavoring
  • Gellan and Guar Gum

Please do your liver a favor and don’t add these chemicals to your otherwise healthy cup of coffee.

I think you can see by now that coffee’s multitude of health benefits has earned its status as one of the best drinks to have as a part of a well-balanced diet. You don’t need to have the added caffeine to get all the benefits but it is best to choose your coffee wisely as mass-produced coffee brands are far inferior to small, organic coffee brands that demonstrate both care and respect for its growers and the environment. Next time you get a cup of coffee don’t just do a “grab-n-go,” but take a little time to really take in the aromas, think about all the people that produced your coffee, and be grateful for that added little boost!

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.