The pros and cons of drinking coffee
Americans are big coffee consumers and when engaging in a healthier lifestyle, the same question always comes up: Is coffee bad for me?
Ayurveda has a different approach. It doesn’t categorize anything as good or bad, rather any trained Ayurvedic practitioner will say, “it depends…”
On what? You may ask.
“On you.” Or more specifically on your nature.
“Nothing is right for everyone and everything is right for someone.”
You see, in the West, we approach nutrition from the point of view that since we’re all humans, we all have the same needs.
“Nutrition has become a statistical science used to determine the average needs of a group rather than the unique needs of an individual,” says my Ayurvedic teacher and founder of the California College of Ayurveda, Dr. Marc Halpern.
You can see how this can be a problem. Dr. Douillard has written a compelling article on this flawed Western approach.
The truth is, we are all very unique physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. If we can understand our unique qualities and the unique qualities of a food, then we can predict what effect would occur when they’re mixed together.
“The goal of the Ayurvedic practitioner is not to tell a person how much of a nutrient they should ingest but rather to match up the qualities inherent within food to the unique balance of qualities within the individual,” adds Dr. Halpern.
3 things to consider when deciding whether to drink coffee or not
#1: Does it aggravate you?
The real question is do the qualities of coffee either match or aggravate the unique qualities within you.
Ayurveda classifies all inherent qualities under the 3 categories of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Let’s say that Vata, Pitta and Kapha are the three main strands of the fabric of our existence. However, the amount of each of these strands is unique to each individual. Most likely, we have one that is dominant or more present.
How can you recognize a Vata dominant nature?
If you have the qualities of Vata dominant in your nature, you’ll usually demonstrate an artistic sense. You can pretty much chat with anyone and are a social butterfly. You’re easily distracted and have trouble making up your mind. Usually you have a variable appetite, and can forget to eat. You’re most likely to experience gas, bloating and constipation.
The main qualities of Vata are: cold (you’re easily cold and have cold hands and feet), dry (you can experience dry skin) and light (you have a tendency towards being underweight).
How can you recognize a Pitta dominant nature?
You recognize a Pitta dominant nature by its passion, its fire! They’re argumentative, impatient and sharp. Most likely, they’re born leaders. They have a strong appetite and they’re the ones who will get “hangry” if they don’t eat. Oftentimes, they’re plagued with symptoms of indigestion and that’s usually because they overeat.
The main qualities of Pitta are: hot (you get overheated), oily (you often have oily and inflamed skin conditions) and light (you have or used to have a high metabolism).
How can you recognize a Kapha dominant nature?
A person with a Kapha dominant nature is very loyal. She’s grounded and set in her routines. Life doesn’t really shake her out of balance but when it does, she’s deeply affected by it and becomes apathetic. She tends to eat out of feeling and so she craves sweet, heavy foods to feel better when she’s sad.
The main qualities of Kapha are: warm (your temperature stays pretty even), moist (you have a lot of phlegm and water retention) and heavy (you have a tendency to be overweight).
The qualities of a food can be found in its taste.
The tastes that tend to aggravate Vata are: pungent or hot, bitter and astringent tastes.
Pitta is aggravated by pungent or hot, sour and salty tastes.
And the sweet, sour and salty tastes aggravate Kapha.
In Ayurveda, coffee is described as pungent, bitter and warm.
People with a dominant Vata nature should stay away from coffee because of the double whammy of pungent and bitter qualities. They’re most susceptible to over-stimulation.
People with a dominant Pitta nature can take a little bit of coffee but not a whole lot or it will create overheating conditions (wonder why you’re angry?).
While people with a Kapha dominant nature can have a little more, because they need that extra stimulation.
What “a little” and “a little more” is depends on each individual’s tendency for habituation, addiction and intensity of withdrawal as well. If you can have coffee only when you need it, then that’s enough.
Other elements to take into consideration
#2: How processed is your coffee?
As a result of a lawsuit filed in 2010 by the Long Beach-based Council for Education and Research on Toxics, a California judge recently ruled that coffee distributors in California must add a cancer warning label on every cup of coffee sold.
“The group charged that coffee giants like Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts did not warn consumers that ingesting coffee would expose them to acrylamide—a chemical that is produced when plant-based foods are heated.”
In research, acrylamide increases cancer risks.
In a fascinating article, Dr. John Douillard explains that “the major food sources of acrylamide are French fries and potato chips, crackers, bread, cookies, breakfast cereals, canned black olives, prune juice, and coffee.”
So you also have to take into consideration the quality of the coffee you drink.
#3: Could simple lifestyle changes decrease your need for coffee?
The answer is a resounding YES!
David Crow is the founder of my favorite essential oil website, floracopeia.com, an Ayurvedic practitioner and Acupuncturist. In a speech for the Medicines From the Earth conference, he said, “Stimulants are almost always used to support an overworked lifestyle or to push the body and mind to perform at the expense of sleep and cumulative nutrient and immune deficits.” Therefore, simple lifestyle changes are ultimately more helpful.
“The true level of fatigue that people are medicating with stimulants often comes as a surprise when they attempt to eliminate them.”
Since fatigue is one of the major reasons why people drink coffee, getting adequate rest seems to be a really good solution! Ways of getting more rest are:
- Going to bed earlier
- Eating an early and light dinner
- Spending more time in nature
- Moving and exercising moderately
David Crow adds, “The approach I advocate is both quantitative and qualitative. A smaller amount of a higher quality stimulant, enjoyed mindfully, is much healthier and more functional than a larger amount of lower quality stimulant used mindlessly.”
“Another principle is to not try and be perfect in an insane world, but to reduce stimulant addiction to a manageable level, which is ‘take it or leave it’ without causing a big metabolic upheaval.”
There you have it!