I love my daily coffee.  For me it isn’t about needing caffeine to get me going.  It’s about the taste, the ritual and the sense of community I get from the barista knowing my order.

And it seems I’m not alone.  In Australia, in 2011, 16.3 million coffees were drunk per day.

Coffee is one of those things that we have historically been chastised for drinking, but is it really that bad for us?  Let’s have a look at the facts.

Parkinsons : The benefit closest to my heart is that research shows drinking coffee lowers the risk of Parkinsons disease.  Studies have shown that coffee drinkers reduce their risk of developing Parkinsons by somewhere between 32-60%.  Drinking decaf doesn’t have the same effect.  As I have a family history of this neurodegenerative disorder, this is all the reason I need to justify my daily fix.

Metabolism : Coffee helps you burn fat by boosting your metabolic rate by 3-11%.  The effect is more pronounced in lean people, and long term drinking of coffee may reduce the effect.  Coffee will also help you lose weight by giving you more energy.  It increases adrenaline levels in your blood, to get you ready for physical exertion.  It encourages the fat cells to breakdown body fat, so your body can use it for fuel.  So a cup of coffee before you hit the gym will help you work out harder and help you use fat for fuel.

Stimulant : As well as being a physical stimulant, coffee also stimulates your brain.  Studies have shown it can help memory, mood, reaction times, vigilance and general cognitive function.  Because of this, it can also reduce the risk of getting Alzheimers disease.

Type 2 Diabetes : Drinking coffee may help reduce your risk of type II diabetes, by as much as 50%.  However, drinking coffee shouldn’t be used as excuse to eat whatever you want and not exercise, as these would be much more potent strategies to adopt.  And the type of coffee matters.  Drinking a black espresso style coffee has more beneficial effects than other types, and adding sugar is a definite no-no.

Liver : One of my personal favourites is the effect coffee has on the liver.  Coffee detoxifies you liver, thus leading to a lower risk of liver disease.  The more you drink, the more it protects.  Diseases of the liver include cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Nutrients : Surprisingly, there are actual nutrients in coffee.  One cup will give you 10% of your recommended daily intake of riboflavin, a B vitamin.  There are also smaller amounts of magnesium, pantothenic acid, manganese, potassium and niacin.

Life expectancy : All in all, coffee can help you live longer.  In two very large studies, drinking coffee was associated with a 20% lower risk of death in men and a 26% lower risk of death in women, over a period of 18-24 years.

Of course, nothing is that simple.  You genotype is an important variable.  Some people are slow metabolisers of caffeine, due to differences in liver enzymes.  For these people drinking coffee will not give all the benefits listed above.  You can get your genes tested to find out if you are a slow metaboliser, but you may know anyway from the effect you get from drinking it.

There are some important things to think about when ordering your coffee.

Disposable ‘paper’ coffee cups actually contain plastics which don’t break down.  And as I keep telling my kids, every piece of plastic ever made still exists somewhere.  Coffee cups are the second biggest contributor to litter waste in Australia, second only to plastic bottles.  It is estimated Australians use 1 billion disposable coffee cups each year.  Try to bring a reusable coffee cup when you get your coffee, but not plastic, use glass or ceramic.  If you get stuck and have to get a paper cup, don’t take the lid.

Another concern is pesticide use.  This is important not only for the end consumer of the coffee but also the effect on the environment and the people in developing countries who farm the coffee beans.

Coffee beans are highly processed by soaking, fermenting, drying and roasting.  This significantly reduces the consumption of pesticide by the coffee drinker.  However the effect on the people who farmed the beans and their agricultural land still exist.  It is better to buy a certified organic coffee, which have been grown without pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, chemical fertilizers and other chemicals.  Fair trade coffee is also a good choice.

So enjoy your coffee, in moderation, but lay off the sugary syrup additions and pass on the muffin!