If you’re like me, you’re a coffee freak. I personally drink 3-4 cups of coffee per day, and although I know too much is bad for me, I can’t stop drinking. Right before I sit down to start writing blog posts, I need my dose of coffee to get me going.
But how beneficial is coffee to a vegan diet? Isn’t the effect the same for omnivores?
Well, before I answer your question, just let me say I’m not an expert. I’ve been vegan for a bit more than three years, and I’ve had to do my fair of research on this topic. In fact, I even wrote a blog post on how to avoid the most common “vegan” deficiencies.
First, let me explain why coffee may actually endanger a vegan diet.
Coffee Inhibits Iron Absorption.
As you know, iron plays an important role in the formation of cells and in transporting oxygen throughout your body. And while studies show that vegans get as much iron as vegetarians and meat-eaters, there is one thing to consider.
The amount of iron you eat doesn’t translate into the amount of iron your body stores. Plus, your body reacts differently to a plant-based diet vs a meat-based diet. Non-heme iron found in plant-based foods is a relatively unstable form of iron with a lower absorption rate than the heme iron found in meat.
In fact, only 2-20% of non-heme iron is absorbed by the body, while the absorption rate for heme iron is 15-35%.
This means two things for people on a vegan diet:
- Non-heme iron is not processed as well by your body, so you need to consume more iron-rich foods than normal;
- Your iron absorption is very likely to be affected by iron inhibitors like coffee and tea.
Evidence also shows that the effects of caffeinated drinks on iron absorption may be related to the polyphenol content within caffeinated drinks, and not the caffeine itself.
I don’t know about you, but this is terrible news for me.
So, should we slow down on caffeine, or stop drinking it?
Should Vegans Stop Drinking Coffee?
Not at all. While it’s true that the nature of our diet puts us at a disadvantage, there are measures we can take to limit the effects coffee and caffeinated drinks have on iron absorption.
Firstly and foremost, you should drink coffee only between meals, and wait at least one hour after eating. Drinking coffee in a meal is not common but it will cut down your absorption rate by 80-90% and also reduce the uptake of minerals like zinc, magnesium, and calcium.
As a vegan, you cannot consume heme-iron because it’s present in meat-based foods, but you can increase your iron absorption by adding fruits or vegetables rich in vitamin C to your meals. These include broccoli, red peppers, yellow peppers, oranges, strawberries, and grapefruits. Apparently, vitamin C binds with Iron and creates a more easily absorbed complex.
And of course, you should get into the habit of eating more iron-rich foods, since the low absorption rate of iron in plant-based foods obliges you to eat extra to store healthy levels of iron. These foods include:
- Kidney Beans
- Dried Figs
Lastly, make sure to ask a doctor to measure your iron status so that you can prevent bot iron deficiency and overdose.
Coffee Has Incredible Benefits.
Fortunately, even though coffee is addicting, it is also quite healthy due to its amazing high levels of antioxidants and beneficial nutrients. In fact, research shows that coffee drinkers have lower risks for some severe diseases.
Here are some of the benefits drinking coffee has.
Contains Essential Nutrients
A single cup of coffee contains several important ingredients, which include:
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2): 11% of the RDI
- Manganese and Potassium: 3% of the RDI
- Magnesium and Niacin: 2% of the RDI
- Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5): 6% of the RDI.
These numbers can be multiplied by the number of coffee cups you drink per day. Since I usually drink 4 cups of coffee per day, I get 4x times more nutrients than a person drinking one cup per day.
In fact, I get about half of the recommended vitamin B2 intake.
Improve Energy Levels
Coffee is best known for its energy inducing powers, but the same could be said for green tea. Since both contain caffeine, they both can confer you with energy levels above the norm.
After you ingest a caffeinated drink, the caffeine enters your bloodstream. From there, the caffeine travels to your brain and blocks an inhibitory neurotransmitter that causes a stimulant effect. Although this effect does not last the entire day (certainly not for me), it improves your energy, mood, and other brain functions.
Coffee May Help You Burn Fat.
Several studies show that caffeine can increase your metabolic rate, which may affect the number of calories and fat you burn, and help you lose weight. While this is one of the reasons why supplements have caffeine, the other reason is that caffeine confers you with energy to perform in the gym, leading you to burn more calories.
Nevertheless, it is unclear whether the effects on metabolism apply to long-term coffee drinkers like me.
On a separate note, coffee may also lead to “less hunger and a greater sensation of fullness” according to an ongoing trial led by investigators from Griffith University’s Centre for Health Practice Innovation.
It May Help You Live Longer.
Coffee consumption is also associated with a lower risk of death.
A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found out that drinking coffee was tied to a 20% reduced risk of death in men, and a 26% decreased risk of death in women.
Since coffee is a great source of antioxidants, it shields us against the oxidative stress in our body, which is believed to contribute to aging and diseases like cancer, and heart disease. That may be why coffee is tied to longevity.
Besides, coffee is also associated with greater brain health.
Improved Brain Health.
In the short term, coffee may improve your mood, vigilance, learning and reaction time, even though the effects may decrease based on how much coffee you consume daily.
I personally don’t feel the effects as much, but I’m not your moderate coffee drinker.
Diverse studies have also shown that coffee may protect your brain against diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. However, these studies are merely observational, and therefore can’t prove cause and effect.
Nonetheless, consuming coffee in moderation appears to be beneficial for your overall health.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, you should drink coffee moderately and between meals.
You should also ensure a diet rich in iron and vitamin C if you want to avoid iron deficiency in the long-term. While coffee may be beneficial to your health, we can’t forget that too much coffee may lead you to feel restless and sleep-deprived.
When you’re sleep-deprived, you’re essentially not giving your body and brain the rest it needs to recover, which may incur brain issues down the line.
I’m very skeptical, especially when I experience the withdrawal symptoms of coffee (majorly headaches & fatigue). That leads me to question… Why is it that caffeine, a psychoactive drug, is good for long-term health?
Observational studies show us these wonderful correlations, but at the same time, I have to question myself.
Last but not least, if you have more of these questions, and want to ensure you’re successfully following a plant-based diet, allow me to recommend you this No-nonsense Guide On How To Follow A Vegan Diet. Plenty of people are afraid of running into nutrient deficiencies, and the guide I’ve just mentioned is an easy way to get that out of the way. [/su_note]
Top 2 Vegan Recommendations in 2021
- This is hands down our favorite vegan supplement. It’s not your typical multivitamin because it was created from vegans to vegans. It contains vitamin B12, vitamin D, and the Omega-3 fatty acids (DHA & EPA). These ingredients are delivered in the right doses, so that you never have to worry about a potential deficiency in the future. Feel free to read my review on the supplement as well.
- Our second recommendation is this amazing vegan starter kit. It is actually a bundle with 9 e-books that will help you lead a healthy, vegan lifestyle. It has great advice, and it includes print-outs and checklists that will allow you to easily put theory into practice, particularly if you’re new to the vegan lifestyle. This is a recommendation I’ve also included in my essential vegan products page as well.