The history of coffee goes back a long way, to tales of Ethiopian goatherders snacking on the beans, to Africans making power balls out of fat and raw coffee and to Arabia 1,000 years ago when roasted beans were first brewed by the Muslim population, whereupon the ritual of drinking coffee followed Islam as it spread into North Africa, the eastern Mediterranean and India. Nowadays, of course, coffee is something entirely different. It’s drunk all over the globe, by all classes and religions, and available in an incredible number of varieties.
It’s also incredibly contentious. Some see it as a stressful, addictive, unnecessary drink, causing more harm than good. Others swear that they couldn’t get through the day without it. This blog post attempts to debunk some of the many myths that have emerged about coffee over the years. It seems that recent evidence and scientific studies are finally unravelling what we thought we knew about coffee.
Coffee Is Addictive
To really answer this myth we must first decide what addiction is. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, and therefore regular use of caffeine will result in the body becoming used to that stimulation of the nervous system. When it’s not present they will feel less-stimulated and crave coffee. In that sense it’s a physical dependence. However, most experts don’t consider coffee an addiction because its consumption can be stopped quickly, in around 2-3 days with minor symptoms such as headaches and fatigue, something that can not be said for people who suffer addiction to drink or drugs. There’s no doubt that kicking your coffee habit can make you grumpy, but things could be a lot worse.
Coffee Dehydrates You
Caffeine works as a mild diuretic, which is to say that it makes you need to urinate. For this reason, many believe it to be dehydrating. However, the fluid that you consume in a coffee – especially an americano, latte or cappuccino – will often offset the amount lost during urination.
This is confirmed by recent research undertaken by the University of Birmingham School of Sport and Exercise Sciences. In their research they found that coffee contributes to daily fluid requirements just as much as any other drink does. Sophie Killer, who led the research said: “Despite a lack of scientific evidence, it is a common belief that coffee consumption can lead to dehydration and should be avoided, or reduced, in order to maintain a healthy fluid balance. Our research aimed to establish if regular coffee consumption, under normal living conditions, is detrimental to the drinker’s hydration status.”
In their research they “found that consumption of a moderate intake of coffee, four cups per day, in regular coffee drinking males, caused no significant differences across a wide range of hydration indicators compared to the consumption of equal amounts of water.” There was no link between coffee consumption and dehydration, leading Killer to conclude that “advice provided in the public health domain, regarding coffee and dehydration, should be updated to reflect these findings.”
Coffee Causes Insomnia
As with the addiction issue, this myth can cause some confusion. Caffeine is quickly absorbed into the body, but it is also used up by the body quickly too. It will take about five to seven hours, on average, for half of the caffeine to eliminated from your body, and eight to 10 hours for 75% of the caffeine to have gone. So, if you have a couple of coffees in the morning you need not worry about suffering any problems with sleeping. However, drinking caffeine later in the day, especially at night, can cause problems. This is the same drink that students have when they are trying to stay up all night to finish their assignments, after all.
Just bear in mind that everyone has different metabolisms and get used to how your body processes caffeine, making sure that you’re also aware of how much caffeine is in the drink you’re about to have, and you’ll be able to manage yourself so that being unable to sleep won’t be a problem.
This does also allow us to debunk another myth too, which is that caffeine is a quick stimulant and can be used to get you through a job interview or something that requires a mental boost. Looking at the figures above, it is clear that caffeine stays in the body for a good few hours so is more than just a quick fix.
Coffee Causes Cancer
It is perfectly understandable that people are wary of consuming anything that could potentially cause cancer, and unfortunately for coffee, it has long been a substance that has caused concern. Luckily, considering the amount of people who drink coffee every day, a lot of research has gone into investigating these links, and even more fortuitously they have shown no connection. In 1997, the World Cancer Research Fund published a review of diet and cancer, in which it stated: “Most evidence suggests that regular consumption of coffee and/or tea has no risk of cancer at any site.”
Intriguingly, some studies have shown that a mug of coffee can actually help the body fight cancer, with antioxidants found in both regular and decaffeinated coffee thought to have some positive effects.
George Washington Invented Instant Coffee
Okay, this one is true (kind of), but it’s not the George Washington you were thinking of. It was the other George Washington, the American inventor, who developed instant coffee in the early 20th Century, finding a highly-profitable client in the US Military, who would buy his coffee during World War I and turn Washington into a millionaire.
In truth, this one is a bit of a myth too as it was long understood that Satori Kato, a Japanese chemist, invented instant coffee first. However, even Kato has recently been demoted as it is now thought that a New Zealander called David Strang was the first, inventing a technique for making soluble instant coffee in 1899. Crucially George Washington was the first to turn his invention into a commercial venture and that’s why his name stuck.
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