Coffee drinkers come in all shapes and sizes.

There are those who are perfectly content picking up their $0.59 cup at the local gas station on their way to work, and there are those who are positively snobbish about it and order not just one but TWO fancy cappuccino machines from Italy (in case one breaks, obviously) and are even known to bring their cappuccino machines and freshly ground beans on vacation with them (that would be you guys, mom & dad).

There are women who love it sweetened in every way imaginable, from amaretto syrup to honey to cinnamon……and men who will drink whatever is available, even if it’s just yesterday’s leftovers sitting in the cup holder when they get into their car in the morning.

Some treat it more as a hobby or lifestyle, drinking only fair trade coffee and frequenting coffee shops for their local art and music.

And then of course, there are the Starbucks moms, popping in each morning with their post-yoga glow, baristas already preparing the made-to-order latte before they even step foot inside the shop.

Since over a dozen of you have asked me about coffee, I am going to do my best to help you understand the “nutrition” behind our favorite morning beverage, whether you go for a grande extra-hot double-shot sugar-free vanilla skim latte no foam, or just a black coffee.

Let’s start simple. Coffee contains lots of caffeine. Caffeine binds with receptors in your brain that are normally reserved for chemicals that cause drowsiness. This is why caffeine keeps us awake and alert. Our heart rate increases, sugar is released into the bloodstream for energy, and our muscles start receiving more blood flow.

You may have noticed that drinking coffee makes you have to go to the bathroom often. This is because coffee is a diuretic, meaning it increases the amount of urine produced. This can dehydrate the body if you are not drinking extra amounts of water for each cup of coffee you drink (read about the effects of dehydration here).

Caffeine also causes potassium to be excreted from your body, which can cause an increase in blood pressure. Symptoms associated with excess caffeine intake include anxiety, tension, stomach ulcers, reflux and inability to concentrate.

But in moderation, coffee is not all bad. The way one of my teachers described it was that caffeine is okay “as long as you are not a slave to it.”

Are you a slave to coffee? Are you dysfunctional in the morning until you get your first two cups? Then maybe you should try to cut back a little. Because once you are a “slave” to your morning (or afternoon) coffee, it means your body is addicted to the caffeine. And that is what leads to all the problems you hear about. You may get headaches until you get your next cup. You may be irritable or tense with your kids or coworkers. Falling asleep each night could be stressful and difficult. All of these things indicate that caffeine addiction is beginning to affect your daily life in a negative way. You should recognize these warning signs and begin to take steps to reduce your dependency on caffeine.

If you aren’t sure if you are a slave to caffeine or not, try going without it for 4 days. If this is easy for you, you may not be addicted and you should cut back while you can. If this is difficult and you feel withdrawal symptoms, it might be time to face the caffeine addiction. I have never had to go through the process of eliminating caffeine because I typically only drink caffeinated coffee or tea about 2-3 times per week (and I rarely, if ever, drink soda). But I know people who have given up coffee, and slow and steady seems to be the way to go. I have heard of diluting coffee with water each morning, starting with just 25% water and 75% coffee, and eventually ending up with 75% water and 25% coffee. You could also try switching to decaf coffee or herbal teas. Traditional Medicinals makes some great herbal teas.

Another point to keep in mind: one cup of coffee is the equivalent of 8 oz., so when you order the “small” size at most coffee shops, you are usually getting 12 oz. or 1 ½ cups of coffee.

The creamy and sugary additions that people add to their Starbucks drinks are a whole separate topic, and I believe some people may be addicted to their morning “sugar”, not necessarily the morning caffeine… let’s just focus on tackling the caffeine for now!


  1. Annie thanks for letting me know my daily coffee is not unhealthy. I am for sure addicted, but I also drink tons of water and I don't put any sugar into my coffee drinks--they taste too good without it!

  2. Good to know coffee fridays were not a hazard to our health...can't say the same for any other MU habits:-)