My mum looked at bit sheepish, and said: ‘22 cups‘.
I’d just asked her how much coffee she’d drunk each day when pregnant with me.
‘They were small cups,’ she added hopefully, as if my neonatal caffeine addiction would have been worse if they’d been large cups. When she breastfed the baby me without having first primed the system with coffee, apparently, baby me would go apeshit. And after a few slugs of the good stuff the next attempt at feeding would result in a happy, contented, caffeinated baby me.
So caffeine is addictive, to the extent that, with enough effort from your mother, you can even be born addicted to it. Don’t ask me for tips on giving up coffee either, because I have none. Not only am I addicted to consuming it, I fetishise it, in that I buy green beans and lovingly roast them myself, trying different varieties and roasts. (Currently I’ve got a lovely Costa Rica Tarrazu on the go).
As I’ve evolved into ZC/carnivore eating over the last couple of years, my deep-rooted caffeine addiction has started to become a source of concern. I know that the carnivore mantra is ‘eat meat, drink water.’ Coffee is indeed plant-based (it hurts to write those words!). I know I’m not the only ZCer/carnivore by a long way who also drinks coffee, but I’m aware that it’s not ideal. But coffee is such an integral part of my physiology, it seems, that I rarely have any thoughts about it – I just automatically make sure there is some there for me every day of my life.
On the up side, coffee consumption is linked with lower incidence of T2 diabetes and even lower overall mortality. That’s good, isn’t it?
This is a bit of a paradox, since caffeine is also known to reduce insulin sensitivity, and as carnivores, being highly insulin sensitive is one of the primary objectives of our way of eating. Or to put it another way, caffeine seems to increase insulin resistance, and if there’s one thing that seems to be at the heart of modern health issues, then insulin resistance is it.
So how does it also protect against T2 diabetes, since that condition derives from insulin resistance? Coffee is a complex mix of substances of which caffeine makes up only a small percentage, and it isn’t totally clear which of the many constituents of the coffee bean are working in favour of diabetes protection.
So could it be that caffeine itself is unhelpful for our blood sugar levels, causing insulin spikes, while coffee’s other constituents, high in antioxidants, may have positive effects? (Carnivores don’t really need antioxidants, by the way).
It seems to depend on your insulin status: if you are already insulin resistant and moving along the road towards metabolic syndrome, and T2 diabetes, then it would seem that coffee is only going to make things worse.
If you are robustly insulin sensitive and eat not a gram of carbs from one decade to the next, then it could be that coffee is perfectly tolerable. Yet caffeine itself increases cortisol, which has inflammatory tendencies, and other constituents have potentially harmful effects via increasing heart disease risk, according to Mark Hyman, MD.
Hyman also points out something which I often see in the various carnivore Facebook groups: it’s just not good to be in the power of an addiction. Coffee owns me. It could be that my body, my physiology, tolerates coffee – although I’d forgive it for wanting a break from it after a lifetime’s addiction – but my mind, my psychology, is no longer comfortable with the dependency.
This post is more about coffee vs insulin than trying to cover everything to do with coffee and ZC, but here’s a ZC/carnivore reason to think twice about maintaining a coffee habit, as asserted by Charles Washington, one of the primary carnivore advocates:
‘Your goal is to get nutrition into your cells. Anything that interferes with that process undermines your efforts at successfully reducing excess body fat. Coffee tends to blunt the appetite and therefore you skip a meal because of it. You need to eat on Zero Carb in order to reduce excess body fat. You have to increase the flow of fuel in to the cells, not decrease it. Using coffee to suppress natural hunger can work against you because it makes your body think it is starving.’
The thought of giving up coffee fills me with dread, horror, a medium panic and the fear that my life will be a hollow, meaningless mess (as opposed to a well-filled meaningless mess). I can’t imagine losing all the trappings of my life as a coffee consumer – there are four or five coffee makers and three coffee grinders in my kitchen. I have green beans in a bag, roasted beans in a jar and emergency coffee in the pantry,
I owe it to myself – all of us coffee addicts owe it to ourselves – to see what happens in a caffeine-free existence. Some people find that it makes an unexpectedly positive difference, with better mood, and more energy; some people find no change. But if we get more insulin-sensitive, then it’s a win. Is it worth at least taking a break from it?