Naturally produced in more than 60 plants, caffeine is the world’s most frequently used drug. Some 80 percent of Americans consume it and most often in the form of coffee.

The latest “buzz” around this beverage has been mostly positive, and like with many things, moderation is the key. I have always loved the aroma and the flavor but one cup of fully-leaded java and I’m bouncing off walls (which my friends will say I do already.) I actually prefer to get my morning jolt from green juice, but of course you knew that.

Some of the perks with coffee include:

—Increased alertness and better mood. Researchers believe caffeine blocks the action of adenosine, a brain chemical that promotes sleepiness. When you consume caffeine, it quickly travels to your brain where it counters the adenosine depressant effects and boosts cognitive function. We all know the boost we experience during late night studies or work, or the lift we feel during a long drive to help our eyes stay open. And now studies are finding that coffee has been connected to a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Stay tuned.

—Improved athletic performance. I am not one to eat or drink before my workout, but studies have shown caffeine to help improved endurance for running, swimming and cycling. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system so you’re more alert and willing to exercise longer. Contrary to popular belief, coffee is not dehydrating so you need not worry about depleting hydration (but good to keep the water bottle handy.)

—Headache control. If there was ever a time I would consume coffee it was during perimenopause when I began to suffer from frequent headaches. The most common are tension headaches, which are caused by swelling of the blood vessels in your head, which press on nerves and create pain. Caffeine relieves pain because it is a vasoconstrictor, which often works faster than ibuprofen because ti enters the bloodstream quickly (by as much as 40 percent.)

— It may help prevent diabetes. According to one study by the Harvard School of Public Health, long-term coffee consumption is a possible precursor to Type 2 diabetes. This is because of the theory that caffeine stimulates muscle to burn fat and sugar more efficiently. And coffee contains antioxidants and minerals which help prevent diabetes, too.

Other considerations about coffee:

—It can disturb sleep. For the same reason we reach for coffee to pick us up, it can also keep you from falling asleep. No surprise, really. Just a reminder to enjoy it long before you plan to hit the hay.

—It increases anxiety, stress. Just two cups of coffee can ramp up the jitters and even cause panic attacks. Caffeine raises levels of adrenaline, the body’s major stress chemical. If you get stressed, coffee can actually fan the flames and tax the adrenal glands. I am so highly sensitive that even one cup will do it, so listen to your body (and hopefully not your heart racing.)

—It may affect bone health. Researchers have found that some studies show women to lose calcium since coffee can act as a diuretic. Coffee is also highly acidic, which can wreak havoc on bone health, too. If this is a concern, try to enjoy your cuppa Joe with a bit of milk for extra calcium.

Now you can add coffee to the list with chocolate and red wine as a guilty pleasure. Without the guilt. Antioxidants and mood boosters? Bonus.

Creamy Coffee Smoothie

Here’s an alternative way to enjoy your caffeine in the summer months, and it is packed with protein (8 grams) and fiber (8 grams)

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1 banana previously sliced and frozen

1/2 cup strong brewed coffee, chilled

1/2 cup milk, any variety

1/4 cup rolled oats

Spoonful of nut butter (I like almond)

Optional: 1 teaspoon cocoa powder

Instructions

Combine all ingredients in a blender until smooth, adding more milk as necessary to reach a consistency to your liking. Optionally top with a sprinkle of cocoa and serve immediately.

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