That cup of Joe is doing a lot more for you than giving you a little comfort and pick-me-up. Coffee is a great source of dietary bitters. Bitters are a category of biological compounds for which the tongue happens to have specialized taste receptors which register bitter taste in the brain.
Bitter bioactive compounds in food play a starring role in human health and the prevention of chronic disease. These compounds not only act as direct antioxidants, but they also have the ability to induce our built-in (endogenous) antioxidant system and reduce inflammatory mediators.
Your choice in beverages can have an important impact on the bitter taste system. Activating the bitter receptors prior to eating is a great way to enhance the digestive process, getting the body ready for incoming food. What about if you drink decaf only? That works too! There are bitters in both regular and decaf coffee.
Well established, is the fact that dietary bitter compounds activating these receptors is important for overall digestive function, lowering overall food intake and limiting blood sugar spikes after eating. The great news about bitters is that they can help regulate appetite, improve the digestive process, help with weight loss and crush cravings for sweets. They also appear to play a role in such diverse activities as blood pressure regulation, thyroid function and even brain health.
Recent research has shown if you are less sensitive to bitterness, you’re more likely to drink coffee, while if you’re more sensitive to the taste of bitter compounds, then you are more likely to drink tea.
Of note, it’s better to take your coffee black because the addition of milk or cream binds up those beneficial bitter compounds, mainly the polyphenols. I recommend drinking sustainable and organically grown coffee, ideally espresso which is high in bitter compounds, but lower in caffeine than drip-brewed coffee.
If you’re drinking coffee (or tea) when you first get up in the morning and practicing digestive rest, then this is another reason not to put cream in your coffee because it would break the extended overnight fast.
So don’t feel so bad about drinking coffee. You can actually put it on your list of healthy habits.