This is part II of my coffee blog post, "Is Coffee Your Friend Or Foe?". Though coffee preferences are incredibly diverse, I will continue to write only from the perspective of health and focus on maximizing antioxidant load and slashing toxicity exposure.
You now know that coffee is an amazing substance with a caveat that potential toxic exposure is mitigated. Correct sourcing and quality were detailed in the first part, but let’s move on to the next two items of important coffee considerations:
Preparation & Mode of Transportation
(and I may not be popular after this section).
The longer the hot water is in contact with the beans, the greater the antioxidant level. As you learned, increasing the antioxidant level is key. Therefore, percolating and French press are the best methods to prepare coffee. It does extract a more robust, POW-like flavor which I personally love, but it’s a tad “grainier” which may be off-putting to some. There are a few studies indicating that a French press method increases LDL cholesterol levels slightly. This is not a major concern for most, but you should be aware. However, you will ingest the highest antioxidant levels with these methods because the beans interact with the water longer.
Coffee and expresso machines have the benefit of being easy and easy to clean, but the antioxidant level is lower because the length of time the beans are steeping is reduced. Additionally, the filters retain some of the antioxidants. If you must use coffee or expresso machines, choose a non-bleached paper liner (the brown ones). There’s no good reason for you to consume bleach chemicals.
The absolute worst method of coffee extraction is, by far, the pre-portioned single-use plastic cups in a fancy machine. Those cups are lined with a whole bunch of endocrine disrupting chemicals and are going directly into your coffee. Remember I said the worst cup of coffee is a non-organic decaf? I lied. The worst cup of coffee is actually a non-organic, decaffeinated coffee prepared from a single-use plastic cup. I realize these machines are chic, convenient, and decent in flavor. But if you’re aiming to improve your health, this is not a good path for you (particularly if you have any hormone, endocrine or adrenal issues…which most do to some degree).
Next, how does the coffee get to your mouth?
Most people do okay here because they make it at home and drink it out of some kind of mug. Please choose a high-quality ceramic, porcelain, or glass container. The bright, cheap ceramic mugs coming out of China or any other industrialized nation, potentially contain lead. How do you know? Like everything else, you investigate.
Who gets in trouble are those crazy, busy people that are always out and about, moving and shaking. Do you know anyone like that? Most to-go coffee is drunk out of containers that are lined with chemicals. This broke my heart when I found out my favorite coffee chain coated the cups in BPA (bisphenol A), which is another endocrine disruptor.
What do I mean by an endocrine disruptor? Any type of molecule or chemical that wreaks havoc on the glands and organs that produce, store, and release hormones. If your hormones are out of whack, you’re really out of whack.
The best solution, and I admit cumbersome, is to bring your own reusable, ceramic or stainless steel mug with a lid. Here’s the deal: if you’re grabbing java on the run every now and then, don’t’ sweat it. If you’re hitting the coffee stand two times a day?...hmmm…that’s potentially a problem. This is a particularly important consideration for those gas stations, coffee lounges at work, conferences and conventions that are doling out steaming hot coffee in Styrofoam or plastic cups. Do this long enough and you could be like some of my patients I’ve seen with the chemical styrene in their blood.
Put a to-go mug in your car, office, and gym bag to make it convenient.
Check Out My Video on Coffee Part 2: Preparation!
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Shannon is a registered dietitian and functional nutritionist with a penchant for provocative topics, almond butter, and local theater.