Is drinking coffee the secret to a healthy gut?
Is coffee good for gut health?
Today I was asked to speak about coffee and gut health on Kaye Adam’s BBC Radio Scotland show. This follows the media interest in the announcement that coffee is good for your gut. So did I agree?
The scientists behind the Zoe app and study have discovered that those drinking coffee tend to have a healthier gut microbiome compared to those who do not. The suggestion is to drink three cups of coffee a day to deliver these benefits.
Let’s step back a bit. What is the gut microbiome?
The gut microbiome is an ecosystem of trillions of microorganisms- bacteria, yeasts and viruses – that occupy the gastrointestinal tract of every human. These are predominantly found in the large intestines but are also found in the small intestines and stomach. There are about 1000 different species identified, but each person will have about 160 different types, with some strains more common than others.
What do they do for us?
The microbiome is critical to your health. There is a synergistic relationship between these microbes and us as their host. We provide a nurturing home enabling them to thrive and grow, and in turn they deliver benefits to us that support our health both physically and mentally. There is a vast amount of research in this space from the link to mental health to physical health like diabetes and autoimmune conditions. In fact, 90% of disease is linked to gut health.
Equally, if the “good” beneficial bacteria start to decline, it allows space and an environment for pathogenic bacteria to flourish. And this in turn contributes to ill health.
How do we keep these “microbes” healthy?
Our role is to protect and fed these bacteria. And we do this through the diet we choose to eat. I spend a vast amount of my ongoing research and clinical education understanding the pros and cons between different food types on gut health. Which foods feed the beneficial bacteria and which ones destroy them. Which brings us to today’s news story: “coffee is good for the gut”.
Why is coffee linked to gut health?
The Zoe scientists discovered that black coffee drinkers had a better gut microbiome; i.e. a more diverse and abundant beneficial bacteria population, compared to non-drinkers.
Coffee is made from the plant’s coffee beans. All plants contain compounds known as phytonutrients. These promote health within the plant and resistance to disease and when we eat the plant, we also benefit from these compounds. One range of phytonutrients are known as polyphenols, of which flavanoids – found in coffee – is one type.
Polyphenols act as prebiotics to the gut microbiome. Prebiotics feed the bacteria so that they can thrive and grow. It is this aspect that is most likely linked to the gut health benefits of coffee. The more we create a diverse and abundant positive gut microbiome, it crowds out space for pathogenic bacteria to take a hold in the gut. And a polyphenol rich diet helps to create a robust and strong gut barrier.
We know that a wide range of plant foods act as prebiotics. And there are a number of polyphenol rich foods such as onions, apples, blueberries, pomegranate, sesame seeds, flaxseeds, leeks, garlic. Even a little bit of dark chocolate and red wine!
Limit coffee and focus on plant diversity
I love a couple of cups of coffee each day, but this research is not an invitation to drink more coffee, thinking that alone will overcome a poor plant-based diet.
Coffee is a stimulant, creating a stress response of adrenaline and cortisol and “dumping” sugar into the bloodstream. Some people cannot tolerate coffee as it makes them jittery. Coffee could act as an irritant to the gut in excess, causing heartburn and loose stools.
If you truly want to take care of your health and your gut health, then focus on a wide diversity of plant foods (vegetables, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, wholegrains, pulses, fruit). You should aim to eat 40 different plant foods every week. Yes, it is possible! And ideally aim for “10 a day” (8 vegetables, 2 fruits).
Enjoy 2–3 cups of good quality coffee. Be aware that it is not an unhealthy gut drink to have (unless you add sugar or artificial sweeteners) but keep your focus on a high daily intake of colourful plant foods.
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Again, thanks for reading.
Keep your eye out for more articles and Peyton Principles in the media.
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