The more I’ve read about coffee, the coffee crop productions, and the decaf process, the less I’m inclined to enjoy my joe now. Let me share some facts with you and let you decide if you’re just as bothered about coffee as I am now…..
The coffee bean crop is typically heavily sprayed. Non-organic coffee can contain herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers right in with your morning cuppa. These substances are known carcinogens and can interrupt normal bodily functions including immune system, fertility, and endocrine system function. The caffeine in coffee can cause a lot of side effects which most of us know and have experienced. But there may be a few that you aren’t aware of including:
1. Make you jittery and shaky
2. Make it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep, or get a good night’s sleep
3. Cause heart problems like making your heart beat faster, cause an uneven heart rhythm , or raise your blood pressure
4. Cause headaches, nervousness, and/or dizziness
5. Make you dehydrated (dried out) especially after a workout and cause you to urinate more often
6. Make you dependent on it so you need to take more of it
7. Increase the release of acid in your stomach causing heartburn.
8. Large amounts of caffeine may stop the absorption of calcium and cause thinning bones — a condition called osteoporosis.
9. It may also lead to painful, lumpy breasts – a condition called fibrocystic breast disease.
The FDA states that caffeine is both a drug and a food additive. You’ll find it in medications and added into foods and drinks. It will peak in your blood about 30-60 minutes after ingesting it and stay in your system for 4-6 hrs. Caffeine isn’t just in coffee, it’s in tea, chocolate, sodas, ice cream, medications (Midol, Exedrin, weight loss pills, Nodoz), energy “water”, breath freshener mints, and the list goes on and on. So, in order to be more health conscious, I went decaf for a while. You probably know where I’m going with this, right?
Is Decaffeinated Coffee better for your body?
The answer is “Not necessarily”. Both decaffeinated and regular coffees have cholesterol raising effects – it doesn’t have anything to do with the caffeine in the coffee. The LDL (low density lipoproteins – the bad cholesterol) can be increased by drinking regular or decaf coffee and the risk is amplified with the more cups you drink. Both caffeinated and decaf coffee also can impede the absorption and increase the elimination of several minerals that we need including calcium, magnesium, zinc and iron. Therefore, coffee in general can be linked to increased risk for health problems. Both decaf and regular coffee also have been shown to increase the pressure on the sphincter at the top of the stomach– which for those with acid reflux (heartburn) would make the symptoms worse.
But, let’s look at decaffeinated coffee by itself. Is it a better choice than caffeinated coffee? A study published in the Journal of Arthritis and Rheumatology in 2002 showed that women who drank decaf coffee had a higher incidence of RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis) than women who didn’t drink coffee or compared to women who drank regular coffee. (By the way –the same study also showed that women who drank 3 or more cups of tea per day had a decreased risk for RA.) The study summarized that the process of decaffeinating the coffee (usually chemicals are used) is most likely the cause of the higher incidence of RA with decaf. RA is an autoimmune disease, so we can postulate that the chemicals are doing a number on a person’s immune system. Decaf coffee also is associated with higher metabolic acidity which interferes with bone density. Lower bone density can lead to brittle bones, fractures, and osteoporosis. Also, excess acidity is associated with negative calcium balance. Calcium is needed for healthy heart function and nervous system function so lower calcium levels would affect your heart, brain, and muscles too.
So, you can conclude that the chemicals left after processing caffeinated coffee into decaf coffee, are probably floating in your cup of coffee this morning. And, the decaf coffee you are drinking is right now pulling calcium from your bones and making you a soon-to-be hip fracture patient or making your eye muscle twitch or causing your irritable bowel problems. Then, if you are a purist, if you also consider the removal of caffeine from the coffee bean, then decaf coffee is essentially a processed drink. If you’re trying to be a whole food consumer and not a processed food consumer, then decaf coffee isn’t in your grocery cart. It’s soooooo confusing!$%&#
The best advice I can give is to maybe have ONE cup of regular organic coffee daily and leave it at that. Knowing that you are getting some of the drug caffeine, but there are no chemicals because it’s organic, and it hasn’t been through an unknown process to remove the caffeine which would potentially add in chemicals to your coffee. Also, be sure NOT to add in sugar or some processed, chemical-laden creamer. OR if you really want to help your body… have a cup of organic green tea and switch over to the other side!
But, if you are still reading this and want to know about the decaffeination process and still want to drink decaf coffee, then let’s review the methods used to remove caffeine from the coffee. Then, when you do buy your decaf, you can make a better choice….
About the decaffeination process
Most decaf coffee is made using a chemical called methylene chloride which is listed as a possible carcinogen by the National Cancer Institute. Methylene chloride is predominantly used as a solvent in paint strippers and removers, as a process solvent to make medications, and as a propellant in aerosols for products like paints and insect sprays and it’s used to decaffeinate your coffee! The beans are first soaked in water and then washed in methylene chloride to absorb the caffeine from the bean. Then, the beans are rinsed, dried, and shipped to the coffee manufacturers. This is the information about methylene chloride from the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)
“The acute (short-term) effects of methylene chloride inhalation in humans consist mainly of nervous system effects including decreased visual, auditory, and motor functions, but these effects are reversible once exposure ceases. The effects of chronic (long-term) exposure to methylene chloride suggest that the central nervous system (CNS) is a potential target in humans and animals. Human data are inconclusive regarding methylene chloride and cancer. Animal studies have shown increases in liver and lung cancer and benign mammary gland tumors following the inhalation of methylene chloride.”
The EPA states that in animal studies, methylene chloride does cross the placental barrier. So pregnant animals exposed to this substance, passed it on to their baby. The FDA allows up to 10 parts per million (ppm) of methyl chloride for consumption. But, the information I’ve found showed that most coffee blends have a concentration at or below 1 ppm. Which means the chemical is still there but in lower amounts than what the FDA will allow (in most blends). The amount in the coffee does not have to be labeled since it’s part of the processing of the food, not a food additive. This process is preferred by many because it allows more of the flavor to remain in the coffee bean compared to other methods which take out a lot of the coffee’s flavor and some of the oils. The other methods use ethyl acetate, carbon dioxide, or water. They typically are considered more “natural”.
Using ethyl acetate to decaf your coffee
Ethyl acetate is found in ripening fruits. For this process, coffee beans are soaked in water to soften them and to get the caffeine to dissolve. The water containing the caffeine is treated with the ethyl acetate, heated to remove the solvent and caffeine, and then returned to the beans. The flavors in the water are reabsorbed by the beans, which are then dried. Because it’s impractical to gather natural ethyl acetate and because of its cost, the chemical used for decaffeination is usually synthetic. Ethyl acetate is produced commercially from ethyl alcohol and acetic acid, which in turn may be produced from natural ingredients or petroleum derivatives. So you may not actually know what is being used in this process. Even though it doesn’t sound natural, it can be labeled as natural because the solvent occurs in nature.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) Process
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is found naturally in the atmosphere. In this process the coffee beans are soaked in compressed CO2, which removes 97 percent of the caffeine. The solvent containing the extracted caffeine evaporates when the beans come back to room temperature. The use of supercritical CO2 leaves no residue on the beans, is environmentally safe, and there is no toxic solvent waste from this process. It’s more expensive to produce decaf coffee in this way though.
The “Water” Process
The “Water” Process uses hot water, steam, and activated charcoal filters to remove the caffeine from the coffee. Once the caffeine is removed, then the same beans are put back into the decaf solution to reabsorb the oils and flavors. The beans are then dried and sent to the manufacturer. This type of process can make the coffee less flavorful. If your coffee is labeled “decaffeinated using Swiss water process”, you can be assured that no harmful chemicals are used. If you are uncertain, you can ask or call your coffee processor to learn about the method used.
If you choose to drink organic coffee you’ll reduce or eliminate the exposure to toxins in your morning brew but your body will still be exposed to the caffeine in the coffee. If you MUST drink coffee, then use organic, use unbleached coffee filters, avoid adding sugar and creamers, and if using decaf — get the Swiss Water Process decaf.