International Coffee Day 2020: Nutritionist Spills the Beans as she Demystifies Coffee

Updated: 01 October, 2020 17:27 IST | Maitrai Agarwal | Mumbai

Nutritionist Ishitaa Bhatia discusses the caffeine kick, its effect on our brains, sleep cycle, eating habits, and more

Photo used for representational purposes.
Photo used for representational purposes.

International Coffee Day is observed on October 1 every year. Established by the International Coffee Organisation (ICO), the day is a celebration of the industry and the love people have for coffee. One single day is by no means enough to cherish a beverage that has gained cult status across the globe. Coffee has become an indispensible part of our work schedules and social engagements. 

Ever wondered what it is it that makes us feel so good? Why can’t some of us function without our steaming cup of goodness in the morning? How does it affect our brain and sleep cycle? This International Coffee Day, we spoke to Consulting Registered Nutritionist Ishitaa Bhatia to help us demystify our love affair with coffee and answer many such questions.

What’s Coffee made up of?

Coffee is one of the most common beverages consumed in the world. This complex drink contains over 1000 compounds, many of which are not yet identified. Its main component, caffeine acts as a stimulant. In addition to caffeine, other compounds such as chlorigenic acids have shown to be powerful antioxidants in laboratory tests.  However, it is still unclear how strong the activity of these antioxidants is once they have been completely metabolised in the human body. The process of roasting the coffee bean has shown to significantly decrease chlorigenic acid content- although interestingly compounds released from this breakdown (such as caffeic acid) are antioxidants in their own right. Other antioxidant compounds found in coffee are lignans, tannins, and anthocyanins, albeit in lesser amounts than chlorigenic acids. There is some evidence also pointing to coffee being hepatoprotective (beneficial for the liver). Coffee has also shown to prevent long-term cognitive decline in study populations.

What is the ‘Caffeine kick’? Does it give us energy?

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A post shared by Ishitaa Bhatia (ANutr) (@the.nutrition.project) onAug 7, 2020 at 5:24am PDT

“It does not provide energy, although when caffeine is ingested- it acts on the brain. Caffeine blocks certain receptors that promote sleepiness and promote dopamine. This in turn has a ‘mood enhancing’ and stimulatory effect on us. So this is where the extra ‘caffeine kick’ comes from, not because it provides energy in the form of calories,” explained Ishitaa. We must remember that caffeine is not only present in coffee, but also in tea, energy drinks, colas, cocoa, chocolates, and some medications.

How does Caffeine affect our Brain?

Caffeine is rapidly absorbed in the bloodstream after ingestion, and freely crosses the blood-brain and placental barriers. In the brain, it inhibits the adenosine A1 and A2A receptors. The outcomes of this are twofold. First, there is an increase in excitatory neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) such as dopamine, which attribute to increased alertness, focus, and arousal. Second, its blockade reduces sleepiness.

Is this ‘Caffeine Kick’ Good or Bad?  How much Caffeine can we Consume in a Day?

“It’s alright to a certain extent. It could be consumed in the earlier half of the day (early afternoon) to boost alertness and concentration. Up to 400mg daily of caffeine or 4-5 cups of coffee does not raise any health concerns,” said Ishitaa.

However, individuals with anxiety and Gastrooesphegial reflux (GERD) might need to reconsider their coffee consumption as caffeine may raise anxiety levels and may trigger heartburn.  Also, coffee is usually contraindicated in the case of pregnant women.


Why do People React Differently to Caffeine?

There are multiple factors that influence this. One of which is the varying genotypes CYP1A2 that exist. This protein present in the liver is responsible for eliminating caffeine from the body. Depending on the type of CYP1A2 one possesses genetically, he/she can be categorised into a ‘slow’ or a ‘fast’ metaboliser. Similarly, varying A2A receptor polymorphisms in the brain could make some individuals’ sleep more sensitive to caffeine than others.

How does Caffeine affect Sleep Cycles?

Depending on one’s genetic makeup, as well as other factors such as nicotine use, pregnancy etc. caffeine can remain in the body for a varying amount of time. Due to its mode of action on the brain, caffeine may affect one’s sleep cycle. It has shown to shorten total sleep time, prolong light sleep phases while shortening deep sleep phases. Inadequate and low quality sleep could set off a cycle which turn could lead to daytime drowsiness the following day, consequently making one reach out to more caffeine.

“It is thus generally recommended to maintain good sleep hygiene and limit caffeine intake to early evening, around 5 PM. This could help improve sleep quality and consequent daytime fatigue. It may be especially useful in those who are genetically ‘slower’ metabolisers or more sensitive to caffeine,” advised Ishitaa.

Coffee and Disordered Eating: A Slippery Slope

Even within its safe limits, some may wrongly depend on coffee to keep ‘boosting their mood’ while they are over-restricting their food intake.  “The reason behind their low mood and energy levels is inadequate caloric intake in the first place,” explained Ishitaa. Another culturally acceptable misuse of coffee can be observed when one tries to ‘fill themselves up’ or ‘kill their hunger’ with coffee instead of food. These practices in fact are extremely unhealthy and can be considered as ‘disordered eating behaviours.’

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First Published: 01 October, 2020 17:00 IST

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